Online volunteers map Philippines after typhoon Haiyan

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team coordinates mapping effort after enormous storm devastated country

The Guardian, 15 Nov 2013

More than 700 volunteers have collaborated to provide rescue workers with high quality maps of areas in the Philippines hit by typhoon Haiyan.

Working on OpenStreetMap, a collaboratively created map of the world – like Wikipedia, but for cartographers – the volunteers have made over 1.5m changes, providing information for humanitarian aid workers on the ground and updating maps to reflect damage from the storm.

The work is co-ordinated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), a volunteer group which lets disaster relief workers set tasks for mapmakers at home. Users who want to help out can log-in to the tasking manager, where they are presented with a list of requests from the team.

Most of these are as simple as tracing the road network of an affected area from pre-existing satellite imagery. One asks users to trace the backbone road network for Masbate Island, in the north of the affected area; another asks the state of buildings and roads in Roxas City, in the west.

The biggest tasks call for huge areas to be covered in exacting detail using pictures of what the area looks like after the storm.

“Use new satellite imagery to trace buildings, infrastructure, areas, natural features and other important visible features of the city of Ormoc,” lists one requests, as well as “map the current state of Tacloban City area after Typhoon Haiyan inflicted heavy damage to buildings, infrastructure and areas”.

With post-typhoon satellite imagery, the volunteers have the task of checking their traced maps against the reality of the situation on the ground. Structures can be marked as damaged or destroyed, and so the volunteers can begin the odd work of undoing the mapping they have already done.

Already, the mapping is showing results. A picture shared by the Red Cross’s Robert Banick shows the massive increase in detail on a map of Tacloban City after volunteers started filling in the gaps:

OpenStreetMap effects
‘After’ map shows details provided after volunteers have filled in the gaps.. Photograph: https:/

The Red Cross has been using volunteers to improve their maps of under-charted areas since the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

Then, OpenStreetMap users improved maps of Port-au-Prince from the barest outline of the major roads in the area to a fully-detailed map of all the roads in the city and its outlying slums .

Thanks to the efforts of the HOT, responders on the ground have been provided with daily updated downloads for GPS systems, and can use the Field Papers service to print physical atlases of the area, for places where connectivity may be low to non-existent.



Learn Earth Observation! Lesson development competition for Bilko

The European Space Agency (ESA) funded LearnEO! project ( has launched a lesson writing competition. With prizes of €5000, €3000 and €2000 we’re looking for the best remote sensing lessons from individuals or teams.

Lessons will provide examples of how satellite data from ESA missions can contribute to better understanding of the world we live in and the challenges we face.

Register to participate in the competition at This will give you access to resources and support for participating lesson authors and allows us to send you updates.


Anyone who uses satellite data can participate as an individual or as part of a team. Teams must nominate a first author to act on their behalf.  First authors must be over 18 on 1 January 2014.


Any application of Earth Observation is a potential lesson topic. For example

* in archaeological research or to support the management/monitoring of cultural heritage sites;

* as a management tool for reducing risks or impacts from natural or man-made hazards;

* to support the monitoring and management of terrestrial, coastal or marine ecosystems and sustainable use of living resources;

* in monitoring or research to support climate change adaptation or the management of mitigation schemes.

Geophysical, environmental or social science themes are all welcome – as long as the lesson shows how Earth Observation can contribute.


Find a good case study and think about how to present it.  Who is your target audience? What are the key points you want to make.  What processing steps are involved?

Lessons must follow the LearnEO! format, described in our author guidelines (


The lessons must include data from ESA missions on their own or in combination with data from other sources (including other satellites, model output or in situ data). Satellite data may be in the original format or pre-processed. Hands-on activities must use the Bilko software.

Detailed rules for the competition may be found in Terms and Conditions of the Competition (

Visit the competition page ( and register to participate in the competition. This will give you access to resources and support for participating lesson authors and allows us to send you updates.