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News — 17 March, 2010

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Deploying to Haiti by Mikel

This weekend, Nicolas Chavent and Robert Soden will deploy to Haiti for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. MapAction and OCHA are facilitating this mission, with generous support from the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Department "” many thanks to MapAction and ECHO for helping to make this happen. Nicolas and Robert are a dream team for this work, adventurous and passionate map makers. They are joined by experienced MapAction volunteer Chris Philips. Broadly, the mission is to support use of OpenStreetMap on the ground in Haiti within groups of UN and international responders, the Haitian government, and Haitian civil society. In other words, make sure OpenStreetMap stays relevant and useful into the recovery, reconstruction, and, most crucially, long term development of Haiti.

They won't be going in alone, but with thousands of mappers globally ready to back them up.

This pioneering trip has emerged from several threads. Nicolas and I identified the need in our meeting in January, and published in the HOT Haiti Strategy and Proposal. The remote response of OSM has been very effective in the initial response, with high visibility and urgent need for data sets, but as time goes on, geodata management processes are put in play on the ground, and capacity building to use OSM within those processes is very much needed. OSM has to meet these communities half way to be effective, and the only way now to really understand deeply is to go to Haiti. The second thread has been a long running discussion between MapAction and OSM. I really admire the work of MapAction; they deploy rapidly and create maps by any means necessary in the crucial first days after a disaster, all through volunteer professionals. They first used OSM in their work last year in the Philippines, and we have long wanted to learn from each in how open source and open data can be deployed in emergencies. Third thread was the incredible World Bank deployment last month; Schuyler Erle and Tom Buckley had tremendous insights and made key connections with government and the UN that we hope to build on. Wonderfully, Tom has redeployed to Haiti. Final thread is the ongoing collaboration with Ushahidi and Kartier par Kartier, and their work to build local and diaspora capacity to take the Haiti Ushahidi install on in the long term. This definitely involves base mapping, and there's an interest in linking in our approach, and eventually Map Kibera like projects in Haiti.

In detail, Nicolas and Robert will be doing hands on training and lots of conversing to assess needs and find solutions that integrate with OSM. Their work will address all levels. At the UN and international NGO level, we are blessed with many good contacts through Nicolas, MapAction, OCHA and myself, and are very eager to continue cooperation. CNIGS (Haitian national mapping agency) and CIAT (main government development coordinating body) have been working with the World Bank and others to rebuild themselves, and their capacity with new technologies; there's interest here in really getting a solid national road network data set, with addressing. And within civil society, KpK has established an amazing grass roots network. Sabina Carlson from Ushahidi and Shadrock Roberts from KpK will also be in Haiti at the same time as the HOT mission.

The preparations have been intense. We've spent the last month budgeting, planning travel, getting equipment sorted, discussing the plan. Haiti is still in chaos, and perhaps even more so within the international responders as their hard work goes on and on. Not certain at this moment where there's space to throw up Robert's and Nicolas' tents. Nearly certainly they are landing in Port au Prince on Sunday afternoon (with risks of delays). It will be Agile at its highest. Sourcing all the appropriate equipment has been intensive "¦ printers, computers, and GPS units are on their way down, need to perform in difficult conditions, and find a good long term home. Software and data work is ongoing, including iterations of Map on a Stick. Clear training materials, including approaches relevant to short-on-time GIS and data collectors new to OSM, are being compiled.

Nicolas has spent a great deal of time on the Humanitarian Data Model. This work reconciles data models and schemas in various response sectors, maps to OSM map features, and works to engage new tools for Extract-Transform-Load processes, and JOSM presets. In other words, make OSM directly relevant to the systems already in use in Haiti. The OpenStreetMap community is invited to review and join the discussion on this process.

I'm very excited for this mission, and wish the best of luck and safe travels to Nicolas and Robert. Hopefully their busy schedule will allow for some updates and documentation. We'll be listening closely to support whatever they need from afar.