OSM Puerto Rico Emerges Stronger and Ready to Help Rebuild!

Red Cross volunteers in San Juan, PR hold up a map of Puerto Rico.
Posted by:
russell deffner
Date posted:
Oct, 27 2017
Related Project:
Working group:
Guest Post by: José Oliver-Didier and Victor Ramirez – OpenStreetMap Puerto Rico

As Hurricane Maria‘s winds and rain battered our home in San Juan, Puerto Rico, among the many thoughts that bounced in my head in those long hours was wondering about the people living in the mountainous regions of the island. The winding roads, heavy foliage, cliffs, bridges and terrain susceptible to landslides could make it the worst place to be in during such a powerful storm. Many small communities on those mountains would become isolated for weeks.

The storm left us without power, water and cellphone service. In the following days, as the magnitude of the disaster became clearer, I managed to connect online and learned that The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) was responding to the disaster per the request of the American Red Cross. While I knew how that could help, at that moment I could not have envisioned the magnitude of the response from the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community and the incredible impact that it would have. That response came from thousands of mapping contributors from around the world in the form of Map-A-Thons held at universities and individuals in their homes. Contributors taking the time to map, using satellite imagery, all of the structures on the affected islands in the Caribbean.

On a visit to the Red Cross Operations Center here in San Juan I witnessed something truly amazing. Among a flurry of activity with personnel from around the world gathering to help our Island, the importance of the maps, contributors helped create, could be felt firsthand. That is because when someone’s home is outlined on a map, it means something. It means that it exists. It is there, and someone may be inside right now in need. I soon learned that the Red Cross is not the only organization using OSM maps in their ongoing relief efforts, as government officials employed them to map out road conditions and to visualize the area which needed to be evacuated if the storm-damaged Guajataca Dam collapsed.

Red Cross volunteers in San Juan, PR hold up a map of Puerto Rico.

Red Cross volunteers in San Juan hold up a map of Puerto Rico created with OpenStreetMap data.


The local Puerto Rico OSM community also sprang into action to ensure hospital and other critical information was up to date. Last weekend a group of experienced mappers and newbies alike, assembled at the Foundation for Puerto Rico offices in San Juan to hold a Map-A-Thon. The building was energized by an emergency power generator and the participants were driven by a deep desire to help the island. The island’s recovery may take time, but hopefully the OpenStreetMap community will be with us on that journey.

Participants at a Map-A-Thon held in San Juan, PR working on HOT OSM tasks. Participants at a Map-A-Thon held in San Juan, PR working on HOT OSM tasks.

Victor Ramirez, a local OSM Puerto Rico leader, gives instructions to participants at a Map-A-Thon held in San Juan, PR working on HOT OSM tasks.

If you wish to continue helping map Puerto Rico and get involved in the local community, please visit the OSM WikiProject Puerto Rico page.

To contact José, Victor or the OSM-Puerto Rico community, join the mailing list (details in the wiki above); to contact the HOT Activation coordination team email activation@hotosm.org