A View from Kristina Grifantini

Digital Mapmakers Help Haitian Rescue Efforts

A website has been working to map and verify information in Haiti.

  • January 15, 2010

Minutes after the earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday night, a project called Ushahidi set to work. Ushahidi adds points of information to a map of Haiti: makeshift hospitals, locations of survivors and people still trapped and reports of unstable bridges.

Following a tragedy like this, map making becomes an important part of the rescue effort. The landscape can look unrecognizable, and existing roads and bridges may be blocked or unstable. Mapping also helps rescue workers keep track of where survivors are.

“Right now it’s about getting information out as much as possible,” says Patrick Meier, the humanitarian response and crisis mapping specialist in Ushahidi’s 10-person team and a PhD student at Tufts University, where Ushahidi’s situation room for the Haiti earthquake aftermath is based. In this situation room, 10-20 volunteers work around the clock to find, evaluate and post relevant information. As of this morning, the Haiti earthquake site on Ushahidi had about 300 pieces of information.

Information submitted to the site via outside users are checked by volunteers to make sure they seem legitimate, and verified if possible (posting an “unverified” or “verified” status next to). Meier says this process could be automated in the future by the group’s Swift River platform, a predictive tagging, program that will try to cross-validate crowd-sourced information by comparing reports from texts, Twitter, news feeds, YouTube and other sources. Once cellular service is restored in the disaster-struck portions of Haiti (different groups are slowly bringing cellular solutions in, such as Trilogy International Partners’ Voila), Meier expects they will see an influx of information from people there too.

Ushahidi has also created a social network called Crisis Mappers Net. Meier says the network has attracted representatives from state departments, NGOs, and people in the technology and public health sectors. Ushahidi is also collaborating with Instedd’s GeoChat, another map-based communications platform working with the Emergency Information Services (EIS).

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