12 Days of SMEM: Crisismapping

I’ll admit it. If I have a blind spot in how social media is used in
public health emergencies, it is in the realm of mapping. And it’s a
shame because, in the volunteer tech communities out there,
crisismapping is the most tangible evidence of success. And frankly,
this is one area I believe will see rapid growth—and growing
legitimacy—in the coming year. Therefore, one of my goals next year is
to learn more about crisismapping and how it can help those of us in
public health.

And boy are there some great folks out there to learn from.

In public health the first, and most obvious, is the HealthMap
. Comprised of researchers from
Boston, HealthMap utilizes 11 different data sources to plot, and
track, outbreaks of public health interest around the globe. The
coolest part of this project, because the idea really isn’t novel, is
the openness. Anyone with a smartphone or Internet connection can get
access to the research and Internet scraping that the team does.
Download the app here. A
number of for-profit compares do the very same thing, but none of them
can compete on price (especially one that is so attractive to
cash-strapped local public health departments).

Next up is the amazing group that is CrisisMappers.net. A group that
offers expertise in mapping and GIS with real experience in disaster
response is more than most of us can say about our employees, so this
volunteer group should be—and ultimately will be—seen as a resource to
be tapped. And if you doubt what they can accomplish, just see this
page about their activities after the Haiti

The big momma in this field are the folks from
Ushahidi. Ushahidi is a software developed to
help track, and map, instances of violence in African countries as a
way to identify politically motivated violence. The name, Ushahidi,
literally means, “testimony.” While this software has gained a ton of
believers overseas, it’s only a matter of time before it’s used
extensively in the US.

I hate that I can’t speak more intelligently on this topic, but feel
it’s simply too important not to talk about. If you have any
experience with the crisismapping world, or would like to learn more,
please leave a comment below.


4 thoughts on “12 Days of SMEM: Crisismapping

  1. Hi JimGreat to see crisismapping up here. I really agree that it’s an important agenda. Potentially world changing in my view and we are only at the start. Take the standby taskforce (disclosure: I’m a sbtf volunteer though not as active as I’d like to be). They provided a reliable data feed from Libya during the start of the conflict (then trained UN Volunteers to take over), they were active in the USA during the recent tornados and they crowdsourced the counting of shelters in the Agoogye coridoor in Somailia which should lead to a decent estimate of the numbers and locations of IDPs.And they’ve barely started.If we’d had this technology and will in Rwanda or the Balkans maybe our recent history would have been materially different.The thing to watch, from an emergency management point of view, is that the accessibility fo the tech and the increase in the number of people with skills will take the data gathering and warning and informing task away from formal responders. Which might be a good thing or might be rather scary.

  2. Jim, My first experience with using Ushahidi was after the earthquake in Haiti. Since that time Humanity Road has helped launch the platform for many other disasters–Christchurch earthquake and the Spring tornadoes in Alabama are two that come to mind. In addition, many of our HR volunteers are also volunteers with The Standby Task Force. The Libya Crisis Map was a huge step forward for social media volunteers. This was done at the request of the UN and for social media volunteers to be entrusted with this job gave major validity to the use of volunteers for mapping and reporting of data in times of crisis. We will be seeing the platform put to use for future disasters in this country as well as around the world and all involved in social media for emergency management need to become familiar with the platform.

  3. @Ben:Thanks so much for stopping by. Sounds like I missed a huge part of this world. I’ve definitely got a ton to learn. I’ll keep an eye out for SBTF in the new year so I can learn from what sounds like amazing work.Thanks again!

  4. @Bettie:So glad to have you stop by! I’ve heard from some of the folks at HR in the past, and will keep a sharp eye out for you guys in the future.I completely agree that everyone involved in this work needs to be familiar with the tool and learn how best to integrate it in our work.Thanks again!

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