Data and Tools for a New Humanitarian Response


2 min read

Open source tools, open data, and open standards were the real discussions last week at the 2013 International Conference of Crisis Mappers. I’ve just returned from Nairobi, Kenya, the city that held the fifth year of the conference and the first ever in Africa. In the midst of the emergency response to the Philippines typhoon, there was great discussion around the growth of the organization and the speed of the response: critical information gathered quickly, heavily damaged areas mapped, and new data for responding humanitarian organizations. Open standards, open data, and open source tools have tremendous potential to continue to drive a new humanitarian response.

Driven by open

Amongst the talks on new tools and methods for mapping in emergencies, open data and open source tools are beginning to take hold. Along with the American Red Cross and UNOCHA, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) have been coordinating efforts using open source tools to map damaged areas. Other open tools, like PyBossa, are being used in Micromappers, an effort to bring together and process tweets from the Philippines.

Open data, including updated satellite imagery, have greatly helped mapping and coordination efforts. Timely satellite imagery through programs, such as Imagery to the Crowd, are shaping the mechanism for companies like Digital Globe to open their data, including their own site for humanitarian purposes.

Training on open source tools

At ICCM last year, I gave a talk on how we’d experimented on designing and building to share, and how they can be critical pieces to using data effectively. This year, I led trainings on the open source mapping tools built by MapBox — namely, TileMill and iD — and talked with organizations about using data in an optimal way. As the usage of open source tools by humanitarian organizations grows, so does the ability to generate data to be open. Training on how to best use the tools and discussing how to make data open faster are critical to building a robust response and providing a foundation for pre-disaster preparedness work.

Here are my slides from last week’s training:

What we're doing.