By Kana Walsh, Missing Maps Youth Outreach Coordinator and Rachel Levine, American Red Cross Missing Maps Program Coordinator
Many of us are practicing social distancing and looking for ways to give back while keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe. Volunteering to build digital maps is a great activity to do with the whole family—from the comfort of home. These maps help humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross to better prepare communities around the globe for disasters and respond to crises when they strike.
Mappers need to be over the age of 13 to create their own account and need access to a computer. Mice are encouraged and touch screens are discouraged. With your internet access and our easy-to-use online mapping technologies, you’re on your way to making a difference.
Maps save lives
Each year, disasters around the world kill nearly 100,000 people and affect or displace 200 million. Many of the places where these disasters occur are literally 'missing' from digital maps, so first responders lack the information to make valuable decisions about relief efforts. Missing Maps is an open, collaborative project—co-founded by the American Red Cross—that empowers volunteers to map areas where humanitarian organizations are working. We use a free and open source platform called OpenStreetMap (OSM) and have had more than 100,000 volunteers participate over the last five years.
We’ve worked on projects around the world. For example, to assist with a measles vaccine campaign, 6,000 mappers traced 400,000 buildings across Malawi. This helped the Red Cross and its partners target 8 million children in need of vaccinations in just one week.
We also supported contact tracing initiatives during the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. When only two out of every ten patients at clinics were able to be traced, 100 Red Cross volunteers in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone traveled to more than 7,000 border communities to ensure that these vulnerable areas were “on the map”—creating open data in OpenStreetMap that can be used by responders if another emergency were to occur in those same communities.
If you want to dig deeper, you can read our most recent blog post about supporting a pandemic preparedness program in Guinea.
I’m mapping with my online community
When we map together, we call these events mapathons. Across the world, trained mapathon facilitators share this volunteer opportunity with their local communities. As a Missing Maps Youth Outreach Coordinator since 2017, I (Kana) have engaged youth in scouting organizations. Over the years, I have used mapping as an opportunity to teach other young people how to help disaster responders who are supporting vulnerable communities. I first started mapping while completing a community service project for the Girl Scouts of Hawai`i. Later, I expanded on this work in a follow-on service project organizing mapathons for high school students around the world.
Now locked down due to COVID-19, I have been promoting community service through humanitarian mapping within the Boy Scouts of America. While earning my NOVA Award, I continue to engage with Missing Maps. I have developed a humanitarian mapping merit badge, hosted remote mapathons, and organized a global group of scouts to adopt a high need project. Now, I am in the process of organizing a remote mapathon for my troop in the Aloha Council. Through these initiatives, scouts have a chance to participate in remote mapathons and learn new skills while helping their community from the safety of their own homes.
Many of us are spending more time at home right now. Mapping is a great way to use that time to contribute back to the world without leaving the house. This is one way we can be together, apart.
How to get started
The process is simple and it’s fun to grow your skill sets while learning this new tool. It’s important that you feel comfortable with our interface before mapping, so you might want to watch a quick intro and training first.
To get started, volunteers create a free account on OpenStreetMap (OSM). Then they use our tasking manager to pick a project to support. Volunteers “check out” a square to map and are provided instructions for their specific task. Next they review satellite imagery for their area and trace these missing features. Our first skill to build is tracing buildings and we then we can move on to tracing roads and validation. We also have a sister-app called MapSwipe. Through MapSwipe, volunteers pinpoint where critical infrastructure and populations are located, allowing mappers to focus only on areas where they know features need to be mapped. This can be done from a phone or tablet.
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.