National Geographic : 2010 Oct
PHOTOS: MAGGIE STEBER. MAPS: OPENSTREETMAP AND CONTRIBUTORS, LICENSED CC BY SA 2.0 GEOGRAPHY DECEMBER 30, 2009 Two weeks before the quake, this user-generated map of Port-au-Prince included minimal information about streets and landmarks. JANUARY 13, 2010 OpenStreetMap elicited street names the day after. JANUARY 29, 2010 Clinic and shelter locations were soon pinpointed as well. Crisis Cartography When disaster strikes, accurate maps can be lifesavers. After a magnitude 7 earthquake rocked Haiti on January 12, 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 than most of those available online. Using text 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 map- ping," came a January 17 call from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Ushahidi-Haiti, a student-run project at Tufts University. Crisis mappers won't. ---Hannah Bloch SECTION SHOWN ABOVE This section of Port-au-Prince's Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines was reduced to rubble.