Accurate maps play a critical role in understanding communities, particularly for undocumented populations at risk. Much, but not all, of the United States has been mapped with incredible detail. However, this is not the reality for billions of people in vulnerable areas around the globe. These individuals are often less visible to decision-makers because their communities do not exist on any maps. During disasters or epidemics, unmapped communities may receive less assistance or none at all because first responders have less information about them. Red Cross volunteers and staff in their own neighborhood and around the world rely on updated, detailed information to better support populations after an emergency.
Since 2014 the American Red Cross has supported Missing Maps, a collaborative humanitarian project that aims to grow a community of mappers contributing to OpenStreetMap (OSM). Open Street Maps is a global source of geographic data that can be updated by people with whatever features and details are important to them. The map is created and maintained by more than 1 million contributors across the world so that it includes current data about roads, buildings, addresses, shops and businesses, trails, and much more. OSM is published under an open license, that allows anyone to access, use, and share the data. Users of the data include environmentalists, civic activists, businesses, government planning offices, software developers, and humanitarians.
As of 2022, we have transitioned from Missing Maps Map-a-thons to engaging volunteers via MapSwipe. MapSwipe is a quick-to-learn mobile app that enables crowdsourced data collection for Open Street Maps. This new focus supports Missing Maps members and the wider humanitarian community in understanding the quality of the data traced during past map-a-thons. Confirming that OSM data is appropriate for new types of maps and analyses is especially vital as time passes and environments change.