Rob Delach gives presentation

Voinovich faculty member discusses the importance of digital maps for disaster response

Sam Miller
March 22, 2017

Rob Delach, senior geospatial manager at the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, discussed how maps created by the Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team (HOT) assist first responders to reach those in need during disasters at the first Voinovich School Energy and Environmental Lunch and Learn of the semester on Friday, Jan. 27.

HOT applies the principles of open source and open data sharing for humanitarian response in areas that may not have sophisticated maps available. Many of the poorest and most vulnerable places in the world do not exist on any map and it is HOT’s mission to plot these communities. HOT also supports mapping projects around the world and assists people living within the unmapped regions by creating their own maps for socioeconomic development and disaster preparedness.

A huge network of volunteers help create the online maps through open source GIS software. The volunteers are thorough, detailing everything from sidewalks to water fountains. Volunteers can map their own communities in which they live, but also assist mapping other international locations where maps are needed to assist with relief aid. The maps they create allow first responders to get a better idea of the infrastructure in areas affected. This allows them to quickly identify residential areas so they can begin rescue efforts. The maps also show where large residential buildings could be to allow them to prioritize response in those areas.

Delach said that groups of volunteers often host “meet-ups,” gathering at a local bar or library to work on maps together. After gauging interest among attendees, Delach plans to host an “Intro to OpenStreetMap Editing Training” event for Ohio University faculty, staff and students in the coming months. He is also considering an option to have Map Edit Meet-Ups on campus on a recurring basis and will organize Humanitarian Mapping Sessions when major disasters require updated maps. In this session, participants will decipher objects on photographed areas to create maps of local and international locations.