Update: The Japan Crisis Map team is now partnering with government officials. Government staff will be using iPads with the Ushahidi iPad app to report information from the field. Also, one of the Japanese cell phone operators has pledged to lend over 12,000 cell phones to volunteers.
All of us had really hoped that 2011 would be a quieter year for crisis mapping. The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti during the very first month of 2010 in many ways created a new generation of volunteer crisis mappers. This was followed rapidly by crisis mapping operations for the US, Chile, Pakistan, Russia and Colombia among other crises, which prompted the launch of the Standby Volunteer Task Force for Live Mapping in October 2010.
This year is unfortunately no less busy for Crisis Mappers around the world. The Standby Task Force was activated to provide mapping support to Sudan Vote Monitor for the Sudan referendum, the Christchurch Recovery Map for New Zealand earthquake and most recently the Libya Crisis Map. The latter was requested by the Information Services Section of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an unprecedented move by the UN to engage directly with volunteer technical communities like the Task Force.
In order to provide the UN with more long term crisis mapping support in Libya, we teamed up with the UN’s Online Volunteer Service program to scale the number of Task Force volunteers considerably. We more than doubled our size in a week and now have more than 400 volunteers from over 50 different countries around the world. It was a huge challenge to train so many new crisis mappers, and that’s an understatement. But our seasoned volunteers did a formidable job and our new crisis mappers are doing an absolutely stellar job. The team has now mapped over 1,000 reports and continue to provide OCHA, UNHCR, WFP, IRC, Red Cross and others with a real time crisis map of Libya.
In the midst of this transition in Libya, one of the most devastating earthquakes in centuries hit northern Japan, causing one of the most destructive tsunamis in recent memory. Just hours after the earthquake, a member of Japan’s OpenStreetMap community launched a dedicated Crisis Map for the mega-disaster. A few hours later, Japanese students at The Fletcher School (which is where the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map was launched) got in touch with the Tokyo-based OpenStreetMap team to provide round-the-clock crisis mapping support.
The Fletcher Team, which now includes Japanese students from Harvard and MIT, have been combing the Twittersphere for relevant updates on the situation in Japan. I have spent several hours over the past few days on the phone or Skype with members of the team to answer as many questions as I can on how to manage large scale crisis mapping efforts. They are doing a stellar job and it’s amazing that they’re able to balance these efforts while being in the middle of mid-term exams.
Over 4,000 reports have been mapped in just 6 days. That’s an astounding figure. Put differently, that’s over 600 reports per day, or one report almost every two minutes for 24 hours straight over 6 days. What’s important about the Japan Crisis Map is that the core operations are being run directly from Tokyo and the team there is continuing to scale it’s operations. It’s very telling that the Tokyo team did not require any support from the Standby Volunteer Task Force. They’re doing an excellent job in the midst of the biggest disaster they’ve ever faced. I’m just amazed.
As for who is using the map, it’s hard to get updates from our colleagues because they are completely swamped, but we have confirmed reports that several foreign Embassies in Tokyo are using the live map. One Embassy official asked that the map be kept “as up to date as possible because this picture is worth the proverbial 1,000.”