The Haiti Earthquake and the Geospatial Web

Responses to the Haiti earthquake disaster have been dominating the geospatial news and blogs for the past ten days or so. The response has truly been a community response with the production of everything from scientific and educational maps, through to the creation of new street maps, and the analysis of daily satellite imagery. The response has been so wide that I have not been able to post individual news stories without drawing an arbitrary line as to what is newsworthy and what is not.


In many ways the map-making response was what the OpenStreetMap project was “made” for. There continue to be questions involving the commercial side of OpenStreetMap (ie. is it reliable and rich enough, and if so, can it continue to be?); but here we have an urgent need for maps for a poorly mapped part of the world. Satellite imagery that is only 2-3 years old is readily available, and there are lots of volunteers ready to help. Therefore the quick and energetic response from OpenStreetMaps volunteers should not be a surprise to anyone. Perhaps the real sign of how the online mapping world is changing, is that both Google Maps and Microsoft Bing Maps have their own dedicated satellite imaging systems. Both companies quickly responded by releasing daily imagery of Haiti. This has allowed open source mapping projects (ie. OpenStreetMaps and Google’s own efforts) access to high quality after-the-event imagery. As well as enabling relatively rapid surveys of damage, it has allowed sites such as Hypercube’s & Z-Pulley’s Haiti Crisis Map to be produced.


For a survey of the various geospatial responses including data imagery, Joe Francica has collated an excellent list at the All Points Blog, and Chris Pendleton has posted a list of Bing Maps / Microsoft applications and responses.

Leave a Reply