How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti

Patrick Meier in National Geographic:

ScreenHunter_27 Jul. 07 10.38The National Geographic Society has a long history of crisis mapping disasters. But what happened in Haiti on January 12, 2010 would forever change the very concept of a crisis map. A devastating earthquake struck the country’s capital that Tuesday afternoon. I was overwhelmed with emotions when I heard the news just an hour later. Over 100,000 people were feared dead. Some very close friends of mine were doing research in Port-au-Prince at the time and I had no idea whether they had survived the earthquake. So I launched a live crisis map of Haiti. But this was an emotional reaction rather than a calculated plan with a detailed strategy. I was in shock and felt the need to do something, anything. It was only after midnight that I finally got an SMS reply from my friends. They had narrowly escaped a collapsing building. But many, many others were not near as lucky. I continued mapping.

This is what the map looked liked after midnight on January 13th. What was I mapping exactly? Tweets. I had found a dozen Haitians tweeting live from Port-au-Prince shortly after the earthquake…

I was using the Ushahidi platform, a free and open source mapping technology from Africa. Think of Ushahidi, which means “witness” in Swahili, as a multi-media inbox connected to a live map. I added these Twitter users to my inbox and began mapping the most urgent Tweets (those that had enough geographic information to be mapped). The following night, several friends joined me in the living room of my dorm to help map Haiti’s needs.

More here. [Thanks to Kris Kotarski.]