Crisis Cartography

When I was in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on Katrina Huricane recovery duty (the Blue Roof program), the map situation was terrible.  We never did have very good access to maps and the ones we had were not always that useful.  And the local governments got tired of us stopping around and depleting their supply.  We should have had access to GPS and GIS equipment (developing technologies at the time) but didn’t.

But with new technologies, hopefully things are changing.  According to Hannah Bloch writing in NG (Oct 2010):

When disaster strikes, accurate maps can be lifesavers.  After a magnitude 7 earthquake rocked Haiti on Jan 12, 2010, first responders were hampered by the scarcity of street maps–but not for long.  Within hours, volunteers in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and elsewhere had filled in cartographic blanks, creating far more detailed, accessible, and immediate maps and images that most of those available online.

Using test messages, GPS, and plain old pencils and paper, they dispatched thousands of alerts a day about street names, building collapses, and injury locations.  Disaster-response nerve centers synthesized the information with satellite data, which helped guide emergency workers, including the U.S. Marine Corps and Red Cross.

User-generated maps can present pitfalls.  Accuracy, for instance, isn’t guaranteed.  But in Haiti benefits outweighed drawbacks.  “Don’t stop mapping,” came a January 17 call from FEMA to Ushahidi-Haiti, a student-run project at Tufts University.  Crisis mappers won’t.

The current collection of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) being developed should also help with the process.  They can be easy deployed and provide almost immediate information on crisis conditions.

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One Response to Crisis Cartography

  1. roger hansen says:

    The following was one of Time magazines (22 Nov 2010) 50 best inventions of 2010:

    “STS-111 Instant Infrastructure: It’s not a bird or a plane. It’s a lighter-than-air, unmanned flying vehicle made of ripstop nylon that, if test flights are anything to go by, will be able to soar as high as 9,000 ft. for as long as three days. What will it do up there? If fitted with suveillance equipment, it can keep an eye on war or disaster zones, or it can carry communication technology to link people cut off from the world by, say, catastrophe that takes out a bunch of cell-phone towers. Eel-shaped for a reason, the STS-111 works through an interchange of gases. In the head, there’s pouch of helium in an invelope of regular air. A pouch in the three back sections contains ethane for power. As the eel rises, the air surrounding the pouches is vented so the helium and ethane can expand. This means the vehicle should be able to ascent and descend without bursting. A ride like this one doesn’t come cheap: the estimated price is $2M to $3M.”

    “The STS-111 can be programmed with coordinates in advance or flown remotely via satellite or from the ground.”

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