Resources for understanding crisis mapping and new collaboration technologies

Post by: Kim Stephens

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=google+maps&iid=7211246″ src=”″ width=”380″ height=”516″ /]Mapping data before, during, and after a disaster is not new. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have been used effectively for years by emergency managers and geospatial technology professionals to visualize hazards for mitigation and document impacted areas after a disaster. What is new is how interactive mappings tools, such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and  Open Street Map, are being used by humanitarian organizations or just interested volunteers to create interactive visualizations of data during a disaster or crisis response. The reasons for mapping a crisis could be to influence the outcome of that disaster, create a better understanding of the event, or possibly affect changes in policy or future behavior.

On Oct. 1, the International Conference on Crisis Mapping will convene for  its second year.  The conference will ” … bring together the most engaged practitioners, scholars, software developers and policymakers at the cutting edge of crisis mapping to address and assess the role of crisis mapping and humanitarian technology in the disaster response to Haiti and beyond.” If this topic is of interest to you, the conference web page has a wonderful list of hyperlinks for each of the speakers giving “ignite” talks.

Another great source for information is the working syllabus for a new Political Science course entitled:  “Crisis Mapping, Politics & New Media (part I)“. Part II is also available. The course was created by Jen Ziemke. The course materials are listed on the website and includes many hyperlinks to great information on the topic, which might be quicker than reading the 5 books listed.

For more background see the comprehensive writings on the topic by Patrick Meier of Ushahidi. He explains that crisis mapping “is more than mapping crisis data” and describes three “key pillars” that combine to make a comprehensive process: Crisis Map Sourcing–Crisis Mapping Analysis–Crisis Mapping Response.

  • Crisis Map Sourcing includes four components: Crisis Map Coding, or hand coding geo-referenced event-data. Participatory Crisis Mapping, or many people participating in mapping with a focus on a crisis, like what was done during the response to the crisis in Haiti; Mobile Crisis Mapping, which “includes the use of mobile phones, geospatial technologies and unmanned areal vehicle (which I would guess depends on data availability); and Automated Crisis Mapping, which “looks at natural language processing and computational linguistics to extract event-data.”
  • Crisis Mapping Analysis enables the users to identify patterns over space and time. This includes three components: Crisis Mapping Visualization, 2D or 3D imagery or color coding, etc.; Crisis Mapping Analytics, or using broader analytical tools, such as statistics, to understand patterns; and finally Crisis Map Modeling, which uses “empirical data to simulate different scenarios.”
  • Crisis Mapping Response simply refers to the deployment of a crisis map during a disaster event. This involves Crisis Map Dissemination; Crisis Map Decisions Support–or  identifying relevant patterns in the data that can impact the response decision-making process (e.g. where are refugees staging impromptu camps, etc.); and finally Crisis Map Monitoring and Evaluation, which applies an analytical approach to how the map project itself was deployed (or what I would call crisis map after-action analysis).

I am going to attend the conference in Boston with the hope of obtaining a better understanding of the theoretical basis of crisis mapping, crowdsourcing and collaborative technologies. I hope I can read those 5 books before Friday!


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