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Q & A: Mapping the Effects of Typhoon Haiyan

Robert Banick - Mapping the Effects of Typhoon Haiyan
It all leads to more efficient delivery of supplies to people affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

Robert Banick, a GIS Coordinator for the American Red Cross recently spent a month in the Philippines, helping people recover from Typhoon Haiyan. What did the mapmaker do during his deployment? We caught up with Robert upon his return.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your work in the Philippines?

A. When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall, it destroyed roads, buildings, and infrastructure. So, maps of the affected areas were no longer accurate. Eager to pitch in to Red Cross recovery efforts, volunteers from around the world started contributing to OpenStreetMap—crowd-sourced mapping technology— to create detailed and entirely open maps of the areas affected by the typhoon. The Red Cross network has been using these crowd-sourced maps to measure damage and deliver aid to people in need. For the first few weeks of my deployment, I was leading an assessment to determine how accurate these crowd-sourced maps actually are. I was training people to go from house to house, checking the maps’ data in places like Tacloban, Capiz and northern Cebu.

Then I spent time making maps related to housing and shelter. More than 1 million houses were destroyed or damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. I’m glad that I could provide a little more of a visual take on the mountains of data coming in about these damages—being able to tell the shelter “story” through maps rather than spreadsheets.

Q. How do you know these maps are making a difference?

A. When I was in Tacloban, I ran into a Red Cross team handing out relief supplies. They told me that OpenStreetMap—which we loaded onto their GPS devices as they deployed—was super useful. The maps saved them from getting lost or wasting time when they had to reroute off damaged roads. They were able to give directions to Filipino drivers. It all leads to more efficient delivery of supplies to people affected by Typhoon Haiyan. The effort and attention that is paid to collecting data for maps is super important. Desk jobs sometimes get short shrift, but the output we produce makes a huge difference.

Q. Is there anything you saw in the Philippines that surprised you?

A. It was surprising to see how the little mundane details of life are difficult to deal with after disasters like Typhoon Haiyan. When water is not available, that’s not just a statistic. It really affects how people live every minute of their day.

And while the damage in the Philippines is very real, it was amazing to see how quickly people started to rebuild. How they’re able to piece things back together, put roofs back over their heads and live their lives. We talk about resiliency a lot at the Red Cross, but seeing it firsthand is pretty inspiring.

Q. What’s the one thing you’re glad you packed for the trip?

A. Mosquito coils. There were a lot of mosquitoes in Tacloban.

Q. Anything else you want to share about your mapping efforts?

A. Crowd-sourced mapping through OpenStreetMap is sustainable in the Philippines. Local volunteers are really excited about continuing this type of mapping, even after all the humanitarian aid has been delivered. They’re smart, dedicated and have lots of ideas about how crowd-sourced maps will contribute to their daily lives and their communities. What we do has meaning beyond the initial response and even beyond purely humanitarian work. If people want to check out some of the maps we created, they can find them in our mapfolio.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.