As Hurricane Harvey neared the coast of Texas… The University of Vermont Humanitarian Mapping Club was hard at work throwing a party… But not the kind of party you would think.
Noah Ahles a UVM Research Specialist says that the first thing the group did when Hurricane Harvey hit is we looked at the available data in the area. The available data is on Open Street Maps… A website similarly to Google Earth but without certain restrictions.
According to Ahles “Google is a for profit company that doesn’t share their data very much. So what we’re trying to do is create a data set that anyone one can access without any red tape at all. So once we actually do the edits at our mapping parties its uploaded on to the open street maps which is kind of like the Wikipedia of maps anybody can edit it, anybody can download it for free to use for whatever purpose they would like.”
This data can be used by relief workers and agencies such as the World Bank for damage assessment or disaster recovery.
Lindsay Barbieri a graduate student at UVM says the data can be used to “get a better sense of how many buildings were affected the size of the building that were affected the roads that were affected… these sorts of really critical information for aid.”
In Houston the club discovered deficiencies in building data. So this group got together, took satellite images and mapped out specifics that aid workers can use for better accuracy during storm recovery.
“There weren’t enough building datasets to be able to really quickly do certain types of analysis for damage assessment, figuring out how many buildings are in the flooding area… that kind of stuff.” Says Ahles
And hurricanes aren’t the only natural disaster that the UVM Humanitarian Mapping Club has assisted with. They’ve also helped with the Ebola outbreak as well as the Malaria outbreak.
As for the party they threw… It’s called a mapping party. 25 students got together to map almost 4,000 buildings in Houston. And they did it in just two hours.