Impressions and results from Haiyan Crisis Mapathon at Heidelberg University

By Alexander Zipf

CrisisMapping by volunteers is on the rise and and provides a more and more important contribution to professional disaster management. This has also been confirmed within a conference on social media in disaster management in Heidelberg a month ago.

For example the number of volunteer contributors to OpenStreetMap adding data to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan has passed the mark of 1.000 OSM crisis mappers already after only one week -  and counting!

Let’s compare this with the biggest OSM crisis mapping event so far: this was the earthquake in Haiti 2010 and at that time even a month after the earthquake the number didn’t pass 700. This shows that the relevance of OSM crisis mapping is ever increasing. More importantly also the coordination with professional organisations in disaster management and humanitarian aid from red cross to the UN is much better nowadays. This assures that the data generated is actually being used for the intended purpose. Still the crisis mappers relay on the availability of high resolution satellite imagery - in particular post disaster imagery. The availability of such sources and the speed of making such imagery available to the OSM crisis mappers community still needs to be enhanced.

For supporting the disaster management activities after the typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan a new Crisis Map: has been set up by GIScience Research Group at Heidelberg University that visualizes map layers as the map layers showing population density and "elements at risk" for the Philipines. Credits for this voluntary effort go to Pascal Neis, Andreas Reimer, Maxim Rylow, Bernd Resch, Günter Sagl, Joao Porto and colleagues.

Also new map layers displaying damaged buildings and impassable roads (both OSM) as well as geolocated images from Instagram have been added and are updated regularily. 

Sometimes the difficulty is just not having a convenient way to display or access extant data sources. As a service to the crisis mappers a Tile Service showing the residential population distribution in the Philipines in 90m resolution has been made available. The data are from the AsiaPop project, for details see the notes in the URL given below.

The "Elements at Risk" layer contains information about critical elements at risk (e.g. schools, hospitals etc.) and is fundamental to support response activities. It is derived from a data model developed by the AGORA group of GIScience Heidelberg and the University of Sao Paulo/Brazil for leveraging OpenStreetMaps (OSM) to automatically identify hazard-specific elements at risk. The data model is based on well-established risk assessment methodologies such as the HAZUS methodology from FEEMA and aggregates the most important OSM tags for enabling quick identification of the most critical entities that are mapped in OSM. More details on the approach can be found at: This data model has been implemented as new map layer of by Maxim Rylow and colleagues.

Also a Mapathon to support crisis mapping with OpenStreetMap has been organized by Andreas Reimer and colleagues at Heidelberg University on Thursday Nov. 14th 2013. This included a live video introduction to the relevant tasks to be performed by the OSM H.O.T main coordinator for the Haiyan disaster Andrew Buck.More than 200 geography students at the Department of Geography of Heidelberg University will now be editing OSM maps according to H.O.T task asssignements at least over the next week, thus improving the quality of the free and open geographic data for the Philippines.

Reprinted from GIScience News Blog (News of Heidelberg University’s GIScience Research Group) under CC-BY-NC-SA.

Published Monday, November 18th, 2013

Written by Alexander Zipf

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