Maps, Mashups, and Mirrors, Oh, My! – Innovative Disaster Response & Tracking Tools

Since Hurricane Katrina I’ve been talking to many people about ideas for crisis and disaster planning, information needs and how to anticipate them, innovative technologies to support communication, collaboration, response, management, and much more. But I haven’t been blogging about it.
This will be a bare beginning, just a peek at a few tools using social media and mashups in innovative and urgently helpful ways. To explain the concept in simple terms, a technological mashup is a new tool that is created as the end result of combining data or information with data or functions from two or more existing tools or sources. For more information, here is the Wikipedia article on mashups. Social media or social technologies are terms I prefer to use instead of the popular but imprecise “Web 2.0”.
Returning to Hurricane Katrina, here is an example of Hurricane Information Maps — a mashup combined with crowdsourcing, using Google Maps with markers placed by the general public with information and resources.
Hurricane Maps Mashups
Hurricane Information Maps:
Seattle city government has another mashup that combines mapping with real-time data on reported events and crises (fires, ambulance calls, car accidents, etc.), including a community reporting system.
Community Safety Mashup from Seattle City Govt Community Safety Mashup from Seattle City Govt
SeaStat (Seattle Statistics) Impacts: My Neighborhood Map:
Sahana is an open source, free, downloadable software package for disaster management, including a focus on facilitating collaboration among volunteers and people in the field. In their own words, “Sahana is a Free and Open Source Disaster Management system. It is a web based collaboration tool that addresses the common coordination problems during a disaster from finding missing people, managing aid, managing volunteers, tracking camps effectively between Government groups, the civil society (NGOs) and the victims themselves.”
Sahana Open Source Disaster Management Software
RISEPAK (Research and Information System for Earthquakes – Pakistan) was developed by a team lead by Dr. Sarah Zaidi of Harvard in response to earthquakes in Pakistan, and is an open source, online tool incorporating many social technologies to facilitate community collaboration and response.
Risepak Earthquake Disaster Management Online Communication System
More information:
AIDG Blog [Appropriate Technology, Development, Environment]: Video: RISEPAK, a Web 2.0 tool for disaster response [Harvard Social Enterprise Conference] by Catherine Laine, March 24, 2008:,com_jd-wp/Itemid,34/p,1030/
Another good example of crowdsourcing is the “Did You Feel It?” maps from the USGS Earthquake Center, allowing significant data contributions to earthquake tracking and prediction from the general population in affected areas of the United States. The images below show the data input screen and a map of earthquakes for today and this week.
Earthquake Maps & Crowdsourcing Earthquake Maps & Crowdsourcing
USGS: Earthquake Hazards Program: Did You Feel It?: Community Internet Intensity Maps:
Probably my favorite mashup of disaster information is the interactive map housed at the Havair Information Service in Budapest, from the National Association of Radio-Distress Signalling and Infocommunications, Emergency and Disaster Information Services (EDIS).
Disaster Map
This amazing tool combines Google Earth with the WorldKit mapping tool with several real-time data sources collecting and merging information on weather, health, avian flu, politics, wars, tech disasters, and much more, all combined into a single display rich in information. The map tracks and displays hundreds of different types of emergencies or crises. The following image shows just a very small sampling of the icons used on the map (click on the image to enlarge it).
Disaster Map
You can scroll down the page for more data, and click for a report on the event.
Disaster Map Event Display
Or you can simply hover over icons on the map for a pop-up with a brief description of the event.
Disaster Map, 2
Havaria Information Service (Budapest, Hungary): RSOE EDIS: Emergency and Disaster Information Service:
What about mirrors? What are the most important and useful of these tools? Think for a minute. Most of these, if not all, appear on a single server somewhere. What if there was a disaster or crisis that made one of these tools unavailable right at the moment we need them? Any of these that is truly necessary in disaster or crisis planning and response should be mirrored — copied and made available in many different locations. Think about it? Is there an organization that has oversight of this type of issue? I don’t know of one – if there is, please comment on this post and share the information.
More reading about social media and mashups in crises and disasters.
Slideshare: Dave Fleet: Social Media in a Disaster:


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