By Jackie Faselt
Crowdsourced crisis mapping was introduced as an important technology in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief field during the 2010 Haiti earthquake and in the past five years it has greatly expanded in scope and efficiency. Crisis mappers use different types of data including SMS communication, social media, and aerial & satellite imagery to create a visualization for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies. After the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25th 2015, many different organization rushed to create crisis maps that have been utilized by various domestic and international rescue teams and aid agencies to gain greater situational awareness and to help those in need of assistance.
Much of the success of crisis mapping efforts after the Nepal earthquake was made possible because the organization Kathmandu Living Labs had already mapped much of capital and other parts of the country before the disaster struck. In 2013, Nama Budhathoki was a PhD student at the University of Illinois studying crowdsourcing, open data, and social and mobile media when he decided to start a non-profit in preparation for a potential disaster in his native Nepal. Kathmandu Living Labs used technology from OpenStreetMap, an organization STAR-TIDES has previously worked with, to create a platform that could be used to process crowdsourced data in the event of a disaster. Because of its success, The Red Cross is now advocating that all at-risk areas prepare for potential disaster by replicating the work Kathmandu Living Labs had done before the earthquake stuck.
Within the first 48 hours of the devastating earthquake, 2,000 users had made over three million edits on different crisis mapping platforms. The growing volume of data after a natural disaster, which is in part due to mobile and smartphone penetration, has led to many big data challenges. MicroMappers, a member of the STAR-TIDES network, has begun to incorporate artificial intelligence to make the processing of copious amounts of data more effective. Additionally, some in the emergency response field are calling for more personnel dedicated to data mediation so that information on crisis maps can be used more effectively by relief organizations and governments.
While crisis maps have been a very helpful tool in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, reconstruction efforts after such a devastating earthquake will be a long process. As foreign aid organizations exit Nepal and international media changes focus, it is important to remember that thousands of internally displaced people and other affected citizens are still in need of access to basic necessities such as water, food, and sanitation which STAR-TIDES network members and relief agencies both domestic and foreign continue to provide.