Virtual Communities Tap Satellite Technologies for Disaster Response
The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs’ Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) recently matched the power of satellite technology to disaster risk reduction and emergency respense here on Earth.
Expert meetings that individually engaged the talents of more than 80 experts and practitioners from over 20 countries sparked the research in a new report titled, Space-based Information for Crowdsource Mapping - Report of the Secretariat.
Those meetings, held in Vienna, Austria and Geneva, Switzerland were organized by the UN-SPIDER with support of the Secure World Foundation (SWF) and the Government of Austria.
For the past several years, advancements in technologies have made it possible for virtual communities such as OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi, Sahana, CrisisMappers, Virtual Disaster Viewer, Google MapMaker and Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) to provide increasing support to disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts.
Central to this virtual effort is the ability to access and take advantage of satellite-gleaned imagery of the Earth, as well as the use of other space-based technologies, particularly, telecommunications satellites and global navigation satellite systems.
“This report shows that crowdsource mapping and space technologies are natural partners,” said Dr. Michael Simpson, executive director of Secure World Foundation. “Our challenge going forward is to ensure that the lines of communication between them are well-nurtured so that they can fulfill their potential to improve human lives.”
In the issued report, a number of observations, recommendations and next steps are noted, such as:
- Crowdsource mapping is an interdisciplinary field bridging many areas of expertise, including the need to access and use space-based technologies. In order to understand how such technologies could contribute to the work of the volunteer and technical communities, there is a need to better define how the many fields come together to support crowdsource mapping activities and, more specifically, the common questions being asked by all those involved.
- Crowdsourcing of geospatial data and information, including space-based information, can enable an end-user with a specific need to have access to geographical knowledge from both domain experts and ordinary citizens, leading to better decision-making in the area of disaster risk management and emergency response.
- The “swarm-and-surge” capacity (i.e. the convergence of volunteers to address a specific problem), access to local knowledge and the delivery speed of the products are the main strengths and advantages of crowdsourcing.
- There is need to map the specific information needs of the end-user community -- the actual disaster and emergency response managers dealing with the problem -- and, more specifically, how that community has been able to access and use the information provided by the volunteer and technical communities.
- Crowdsource mapping is distinct and builds upon “crisis mapping”. Crisis mapping was understood as live mapping that focused on crises, with the term “crisis” encompassing slow-burn crises to sudden-onset disasters, and also includes political and humanitarian crises. Crowdsource mapping is a step further, one that takes into account actions and activities that support the full disaster management cycle - not only for emergency and humanitarian response.
“Secure World Foundation is very pleased to work in cooperation with the UN-SPIDER,” said Agnieszka Lukaszczyk, SWF’s European Program manager based in Brussels, Belgium and a key organizer of the crowdsourcing meetings.
“The report is unique in that it draws upon the expertise of space authorities, disaster managers, and individuals from the crowdsourcing community to help build bridges between each other to work in the area of disaster management,” Lukaszczyk said. “This report signals and strengthens the cooperation among these three communities.”