2 minute readInternational, Mapping

We Start With a Good Map

Can you imagine calling 911 and they can’t find your house? With today’s technology, we rarely think about having difficulty finding a location anymore. However, that isn’t true in every part of the world. In Northern Uganda these resources aren’t as available and emergency response is frequently delayed. However the American Red Cross and Ugandan Red Cross have a plan and we need your help. With the hard work of our GIS mapping teams, local volunteers and you we will help the communities of Gulu and Lira develop maps.

How are we going to fix this? We start with a good map. That’s a problem, because since Gulu and Lira have tripled in size over the past 20 years, existing maps are out of date. Better maps would mean better community disaster preparedness and show Gulu firefighters the best access routes into neighborhoods at high risk of fires. In short, better maps save lives.

How are we going to make these maps? This is where you come in! We want to crowdsource the creation of freely available maps in Northern Uganda. Volunteers like you can directly contribute to this Red Cross project by tracing streets buildings, paths, parks and other points of interest directly into Open Street Map, the freely editable wiki map of the world. We’ll then fill in the details (street names, building uses) with on the on the ground geographic surveys conducted by local volunteers in September. Together, we’ll make super high-quality maps of these cities.

How do you help?
We’ll be tracing into Open Street Map off of high resolution satellite imagery donated by the U.S. State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit and hosted by the Humanitarian Open Street Map team on their tasking server. At a minimum, that means you need an Open Street Map account and some basic knowledge of how to trace into Open Street Map. For tracing, we recommend the open source Java Open Street Map editor (JOM), but you can also just trace in your browser using Open Street Map’s Potlatch 2 client.

What are the requirements? We need tracers to follow instructions. It’s very important that we get the buildings, paths and information we need in order to do our program well. Poor or sloppy tracing work will significantly set us back when working on the ground. So please, follow the tracing and tagging instructions that will be provided in the tasking server.

Don’t know how to trace in Open Street Map but want to learn? It’s easy and fun! Get started with the Beginner’s Guide here and bump up to the JOSM tutorial when you’re ready. When you think you’re good to go, visit HOT OSM’s Tasking Server (link above), log in with your Open Street Map Account, and open the Gulu/Red Cross or Lira/Red Cross tasks. From there, select a square on the grid you want to trace, download it into your preferred editor, and away you go! Please remember to follow our tracing instructions! It really makes a difference.

Live in the DC area? Join us this Sunday August 19th from 1-5 for an Open Street Map Mapping Party to mark World Humanitarian Day. We’ll be working with the Humanitarian Open Street Map at American Red Cross Headquarters in downtown D.C. Participants will be taught how to use and trace into OpenStreetMap. For the purpose of this party, we’ll focus on Gulu and Lira as areas for a mapping “sprint”. Sign up here, but please note that space is limited, so participants will be accepted on a first come, first serve basis.

We now have our satellite images up on the Tasking Server and hope to finish tracing within 3 weeks so that we can take this to the field at the end of August. We look forward to working with all of you over the coming weeks and are really excited to see what our volunteer community can contribute. Thank you!

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  1. We would LOVE to join you in DC, if we were anywhere close to there. 🙂 But in the mean time, we’ll learn how to trace in Open Street Map and help y’all out as I think this is extremely important. Kudos on bringing in assistance from the community! Good luck!

  2. mmm… that is a great initiative! Mapping is needed in so many parts of at least African, and its absence will obstruct more projects than one can think of. I believe the Red Cross network has this huge advantage of beeing able to rely on many on-site volunteers to help carry out such efforts. I wonder though how much one can rely on remote ones for such and many more efforts. Keep us posted! And good luck.

  3. […] Las ciudadades de Gulu y Lira, en el Norte de Uganda,  han triplicado su población en los últimos 20 años, por lo que  Cruz Roja de Uganda entiende que es necesario mejorar los mapas para estar mejor preparados frente a posibles desastres y facilitar, así, las rutas de acceso a los bomberos, según señala Cruz Roja Americana en su blog . […]

  4. I teach cartography and design (including a course on designing for disaster response) at a public high school in New York. My students would be thrilled to contribute to a project like this, but it looks like we’re a month too late. Can we participate here, or on a similar project?

  5. Hey Christnia,

    There’s PLENTY of scope for your students to chip in with this or future projects. We definitely plan on doing more with volunteer mapping projects in the future and would be delighted to recruit some high school volunteers for the task. DM me on twitter (@rbanick) and we can take it from there.