Where the streets have no name

This weekend I attended a MapAction training course at Halcrow Group Limited in Swindon. We were lucky enough to have Jerry and Nick from OpenStreetMap who gave us an insight into the technical workings of OpenStreetMap (OSM)and how they collected data following the Haiti Earthquake. This was a really interesting insight into OSM by two of their dedicated volunteers. One potential use of OSM is for search and rescue teams following an earthquake.

In MapAction we have solid experience of supporting search and rescue (SAR) teams following earthquakes. For SAR teams a good city map is often required to enable the team to quickly find the location of trapped people. But the method SAR teams use to search out people to be rescued isn’t always the same. The following methods could be used to get to a location:
– GPS coordinate
– Street map and gazetteer
– Local geographic knowledge
– By sector
– By Point of Interest.

Where am I? (source of picture here – thank you!)

A GPS coordinate is fine as long as you have a navigable road network on your GPS – if not it could be a time consuming process to sort. A street map may exist (but often doesn’t or isn’t readily available). Local geographic knowledge could be hard to find. Sectors would normally be delineated by a major road (often in a SAR phase an urban area will be split into sectors for SAR teams to work on). Local points of interest may not be the same as international points of interest – a colleague mentioned the situation where a team were told to turn right at the red cross….they expected a large medical centre, missed the turn and ended up in a river! They had missed a marker post with a red cross at the side of the road!

A potential problem with some OSM data is that there are no road names or points of interest in many areas around the world. Following the Haiti EQ the OSM data was built up by the OSM community so that it is very detailed….but this took at least 5-10 days after the EQ to be detailed enough to be useful. So when the SAR teams needed the data i(typically in the first 24-48 hours up to 5 days) it wasn’t available.

Don’t get me wrong OSM is an incredible movement and community and their data will have a multitude of humanitarian uses. For example OSM data will be useful for logistics planning throughout the ongoing emergency. But for SAR teams there is a still a long way to go to get meaningful spatial data to them quickly and effectively in some parts of the world. If an EQ hit one of these areas and we deployed with MapAction we would probably be looking at a local tourist map and distributing this to all SAR teams on the ground. There needs to be some data preparedness for disaster-prone lesser developed countries. Something we in MapAction have been talking about for a while. We’ve been building up a spatial data store to help us with this. If the OSM community were to do the same this would be fantastic. OSM and Crisis Mappers please prioritise those disaster prone countries and get creating the map! :-)

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