The Red Cross and the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs are on the ground in the Philippines after typhoon Haiyan. An urgent need? Understanding the lay of the land. Which streets are usable? What buildings are still there, and which ones have collapsed? OpenStreetMap – the wikipedia of the mapping world, is stepping into the breach – providing a platform to crowdsource an up-to-the-minute picture of the situation on the ground.
As of today, over 700 people have contributed over a million and a half changes to the shared map of the ground (update: as of 9 December the numbers stand at 1618 people and 4.4 million changes. Click the link to see the current stats.) To make the information accessible to aid workers, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team is releasing daily exports for GPS devices and other information systems.
OpenStreetMap has been involved in helping in humanitarian crises before, but this is the first time they are doing so at the behest of the Red Cross themselves. Updated satellite imagery may have been just as helpful as the crowd-sourced map. Apparently, the DoD has that, and they’ve been telling the Red Cross where to focus their attention, but they haven’t yet released the images. It’s not as easy to get ahold of eye-in-the-sky images as one might think, not even for the Red Cross.