Using OpenStreetMap To Respond To Disasters Before They Happen

Ruth Suehle | | January 9, 2014

Kate Chapman, executive director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, gave Tuesday's keynote at about preparing and responding for disasters with the help of communities.

Most maps, even that you think of as "free," are likely free only in cost and have legal or technical restrictions. OpenStreetMap, however, is the "Wikipedia of maps." Anyone can add an account and collaborate on the maps. Additions must be observable and objective, e.g. a restaurant's hours would qualify, but not that it has the best dim sum in town. The goal is to create a free map of the entire world. The data is available under the Open Data Commons Open Database License (ODbL), which is similar to a Creative Commons licenses but was created for databases.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) uses the OpenStreetMap geographic data along with open source principles for disaster response and other humanitarian projects. Their first "activation," or call out the community, was in 2009 to map the Gaza Strip, where good maps of the Palestinian side weren't available.