USC hosts mapathon to aid Puerto Rico


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Von KleinSmid Center Library will host a mapathon to help the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team put Hurricane Maria  victims on maps for responders like the American Red Cross to use to deliver relief. The four-hour event is open to all members of the USC community, and will take place on 11 a.m. on Thursday.
Hurricane Maria’s destructive force has ruined the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, devastating thousands of homes, buildings and roads.

Andy Rutkowsi, the visualization librarian at VKC Library, worked to organize the event at USC after hearing about a mapathon that took place on Friday at Columbia University.

“[The Red Cross] needs infrastructure data, and they’re using this platform called OpenStreetMap, which is an open data-mapping platform,” Rutkowski said. “[The Humanitarian Open Street Map Team] asked people to volunteer and contribute to this map project, to go in and look at satellite imagery and draw out buildings where they were before the hurricane.”

Relief organizations usually rely on OpenStreetMap, a free, global collaborative and editable map project, to better assess how to provide recovery, deliver goods and locate victims of disasters.

“Unlike the U.S., a lot of other areas are not fully mapped as well, so having that data is really important,” Rutkowski said.

The event invites volunteers to bring their own laptops, and event coordinators will instruct them how to navigate the platform to add information and draw buildings. The project is largely collaborative, requiring a confirmation process between multiple volunteers before the information is sent to the American Red Cross, Rutkowski said.

“What happens in maps in different countries is there isn’t an actual building outline,” Rutkowski said. “If I’m getting a bunch of food and I need to distribute this food, what building is actually there? That kind of data for Puerto Rico and lots of other places isn’t found, so that’s what we’re mapping.”

Rutkowski said this data is critical during a natural disaster like Hurricane Maria. However, he also wants to partner with local organizations to work on mapathons for areas not currently affected for the future.

Columbia University and several other East Coast universities also concentrated efforts to help, alongside thousands of independent computer users in the U.S., according to PBS.

“This is a very coordinated effort,” Rutkowski said. “These other libraries on the East Coast — we know these folks — and we’re now joining the team and doing our best as well [on the West Coast].”

  • Jose Oliver

    I currently live in San Juan, PR and recently stopped by the Red Cross operations center here in San Juan to see for myself how they are employing OSM. This data is quite valuable for the relief missions these and other organizations are currently conducting, especially in rural areas where not much data on the structures exist. A very big thank you to all of those participating in this effort.

    • Andrzej Rutkowski

      @josemoliver:disqus Thank you so much for sharing that! I am letting other Map-a-thon folks know about your experience. Thanks again Daily Trojan for sharing this story and thank you everyone who came out and gave support. We had a wonderful turn out.