State Department HIU – Imagery to the Crowd

Interaction type

Government → Public → Government

Trigger Event

Adoption of new policy (The “Imagery to the Crowd” Program )

Domain

Generic Mapping / Purpose-build Maps for humanitarian relief programs

Organisation

HIU State Department Imagery to the Crowd Program

Actors

State Department HIU, Humanitarian OSM Team

Data sets in use

Satellite imagery

Process

Manual digitization of roads, buildings, other features

Feedback

Access to vector OSM data for local and international humanitarian organisations

Goal

Leverage volunteers to create OSM data that could support efficient management of disaster relief efforts

Contact Point

Benson Wilder, State Department HIU, mapgive@state.gov

 

As shown in Haiti, facilitating the access of volunteer communities to high quality aerial and satellite imagery can have dramatic results.  However, such imagery is often prohibitively expensive or only available under licenses that would prevent digitization by the public.  With this in mind, the US State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) launched a new initiative in 2012 called “Imagery to the Crowd”.  This program makes high resolution imagery, purchased by the US Government from providers like Digital Globe, accessible to humanitarian organizations and the volunteer communities that support them.  Since it’s inception, Imagery to the Crowd has facilitated the digitization of basic infrastructure data into OpenStreetMap in eight countries to support humanitarian response or disaster risk reduction.

In the recent 2013 Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Phillipines, Imagery to the Crowd published images for Tacloban, Ormoc, Northern Cebu, and Carles.  This imagery supported a massive volunteer effort of over 1,600 mappers from the OpenStreetMap Community, coordinated by the Humanitarian OSM Team, who contributed nearly 5 million changes to the map.  These changes provided detailed information on the location and extents of pre-event infrastructure as well as preliminary damage assessment.  The OSM data created through these efforts was in turn used by a number of actors in the response, including UN OCHA, MapAction, the World Bank and the American Red Cross.  Another recent Imagery to the Crowd project, implemented in partnership with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and USAID, recently organized volunteers in Nepal, the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom to digitize roads and building footprints in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal.  Kathmandu is one of the most seismically at-risk cities in the world and the data created through this program will help inform a earthquake retrofitting program led by the Government of Nepal and disaster response planning by USAID.

These examples of the Imagery to the Crowd project demonstrate that the release of US government owned imagery to volunteer communities has resulted in the creation of valuable spatial data which is in turn accessible to governments and international agencies.  Technical and policy efforts are underway to increase the speed at which imagery can be released and to standardize and improve the process but already this new initiative has achieved demonstrable results.  In cases like USAID’s work in Nepal, this becomes a full-loop example where a US government agency makes direct use of the data created as a result of the imagery release. In other instances the users are UN agencies or not-for-profit organizations working towards humanitarian ends.

Main lessons:

  • US State Department’s Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) created a project named “Imagery to the Crowd” that makes high resolution imagery, purchased by the US Government from providers like Digital Globe, accessible to humanitarian organizations and the volunteer communities.

  • Numerous mapping applications in different areas of the world have adopted the “Imagery to the Crowd” project under crucial circumstances such as the Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines and the earthquake retrofitting program led by the Government of Nepal in Kathmandu.

  • Technical and policy efforts are underway to increase the speed at which imagery can be released and to standardize and improve the process.

  • The new initiative has already achieved demonstrable results by creating full-loop and half-loop projects.

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