Preparedness with OSM: project abstract

OpenStreetMap is an open source geographic database covering the whole planet. Started from scratch in 2006, it is constantly updated and enriched by a global community (over 1 million registered users). Updates happen much like in Wikipedia: anybody can make an edit and edits go live immediately. Validation of data happens in peer-to-peer mode like in Wikipedia: anyone noticing a mistake can simply edit it away, so that OSM is self-correcting…

OSM is an invaluable tool in case of natural disasters, which reshape the map over minutes and hours: due to the lack of bottlenecks in the editing process, OSM can be updated much faster than any government or commercial mapping service. In the developing world there is the additional advantage that commercial services tend to produce only coarse maps, as they have no profit incentive to run full coverage of, say, Nigerian slums. OSM, on the other hand, is made by citizens and for citizens, so the inhabitants of a slum can map out their town or neighborhood with cheap equipment if they choose to do so. The importance of OSM as a disaster response tool came to the fore with the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when the whole aid community switched to use it as by far the best and most up-to-date resource for informed decision making [link]. The same story unfolded in the aftermath of the Hayan typhoon in the Philippines, with about 700 volunteers making 1.5 million updates to the area’s map in the 48 hours after the event (at the time of writing the edits are over 3.5 4.7 million and counting).

We propose to use OSM as a tool for natural disaster preparedness, rather than response. This would mean:

  • mapping on OSM the terrain itself (roads, buildings, power lines...). This creates a solid database: in case of disaster, it will need to be updated, not built from scratch. This will bring down the time needed to have a reliable post-disaster map.
  • mapping resources needed for disaster response ("Where are the shovels? Where are the coordination posts?"). These can be encoded into specialized layers. This will enhance the ability of the stricken communities to help themselves.
  • designing preparedness services – like in the Ethiopian story heard at Inno2013, which is based on geodata like gradients to determine how long it takes a flash flood to go from point A to point B.

Mapping would be carried out by the local communities themselves. OSM has, over the years, experimented with ways to bootstrap local mapping communities. The most basic exercises require just pen and paper and are very inclusive. This is critical, because it builds capacity. We have experimented them in the Italian city of Matera: a single event created from scratch a local OSM community of about 70 people that can map of which 5 are expert level – this in a city of 60,000 inhabitants.

This would create a layer of high-quality geodata that can be quickly modified to produce an up-to-date map at blinding speed in the event of a disaster, greatly facilitating relief work. As it is done by local communities, it also increases local awareness of the risks associated to flash floods and other disasters. Finally, OSM has a positive economic impact even if there is no disaster. It can serve as a platform for cheap added value services (e.g. public transport timetables, or tourism services).

To summarize, we would be up for helping you to:

  • map out and connect to the OSM community in your country.
  • boost it locally as needed (maybe start with a prototype in one or two places) with mapping events and capacity building. In Bangladesh the OSM community is not very strong: it is mainly concentrated in Chittagong and Dhaka, with about 30 junior contributor (< 50 edits),  no more than 5 advanced users (< 500 edits) and no senior users (> 500 edits). Only major roads are mapped; land use is practically 100% unmapped; roadnames are about 98% unmapped. There is clearly plenty of room for improvement.
  • help it to construct natural disaster response-oriented mapping layers. We recommend doing this with light-touch guidance, letting local communities free to determine for themselves what information should be mapped. This enables local innovation, that could then be imitated elsewhere. 

decision making link

quite long pdf detailing decision-making and osm+haiti

“The use of Volunteer Technology Communities (VTCs) made possible by new Web 2.0 technologies  present a fundamental shift in how we can support  Disaster Risk Management programs and intervene  in disaster situations. We are only at the beginning of this story. The seeds planted through initiatives  like the Crisis Commons and Random Hacks of Kindness hold great promise for the future.”


Where would the paragraph go? We are commenting a wiki, so the easiest is just to make an edit as you see fit.

just added the link

which was missing, the paragraph is redundant text imho.

Done, thanks!

Thanks [simonecortesi]. We can stop here for the moment. Sending it out, let’s see if the client bites!