U to help track and assess damage caused by Hurricane PatriciaVolunteers needed to help map hurricane's impact

A view of Hurricane Patricia from NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite on Oct. 23.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Tim Edgar

A view of Hurricane Patricia from NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite on Oct. 23.

In the wake of Hurricane Patricia, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, volunteers across the world prepared for its catastrophic damage. Since landfall on Oct. 23 Hurricane Patricia has indeed caused tremendous damage and the University of Utah is now hoping to contribute to a large database of information that will be used to assess this damage and determine best strategies for recovery.

On Monday, Oct. 26 the University of Utah’s Department of Geography will hold a rapid response event for anyone interested in crisis mapping. The event will be held in Orson Spencer Hall (OSH) 175 at the U from 5-10 p.m.

Crisis mapping, or humanitarian mapping, is generally a crowd-sourced method of rapidly mapping an impact region following a disaster. Participants will use pre- and post-disaster satellite imagery to map damage extent, show transport routes and provide logistics tool for response and recovery efforts.

Satellite imagery is donated from places such as the Humanitarian Information Unit in the US Department of State and private companies such as Digital Globe. Buildings, roads, water bodies and land cover types can then be traced from this imagery in a process called digitization. This is what the bulk of crisis mapping volunteers do.

The imagery is accessed online through OpenStreetMap, an open-source platform that is similar to a Wikipedia for maps. Once digitized, the resulting vector data of points, lines and polygons can be downloaded and imported into any Geographic Information System for further network analysis.

For the crisis mapping event, the U is coordinating with the Humanitarian OpenStreetmap Team, a loose association of volunteers from all over the world who have mapped every major natural disaster since 2010; notable mapping events by the group include the earthquakes in Haiti, Japan, and most recently, Nepal.

An image of Hurricane Patricia's eastern quadrant and pinhole eye from NASA's Terra satellite on Oct. 23.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Tim Edgar

An image of Hurricane Patricia’s eastern quadrant and pinhole eye from NASA’s Terra satellite on Oct. 23.

Maps are typically used by governments, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and other groups responsible for assessing damage, identifying transport routes for aid delivery and allocating resources.

“Generally, crisis mapping is particularly useful in rural and poorly mapped regions. It can be useful everywhere, however, when used to assess damage post impact,” said Seth Bishop, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Geography who helped organize the crisis mapping event.

Data is shared in real time and maps will be divided into small roles so that hundreds of volunteers can map simultaneously without overlapping each other’s work.

No experience is required for those wishing to participate and a brief, 15-minute onsite training session will be offered for everyone present. Free pizza will be provided and the only thing participants need to bring is a personal laptop.


Media Contacts

Tim Edgarassociate instructor, Department of Geography

Seth Bishopgraduate teaching assistant, Department of Geography

Chanapa Tantibanchachaiassociate science writer, University of Utah Marketing & Communications
Office: 801-585-3093 Mobile: 928-458-9656

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