Helping fight the Ebola outbreak with a humanitarian mapping project


I just discovered a way that I can help with the effort to get the Ebola virus disease outbreak under control given my limited resources and skills and I thought others here might be interested as it also happens to be a cool technology in general.

It is part of the open source project Open Street Map ( ), which is a crowd sourced, open data map of the world.

In general there is a subset of mapping called “crisis mapping” or “humanitarian mapping” and this is based on that.

A project called “Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team” (HOT), uses satellite imagery donated by various companies, organizations and governments to trace buildings, roads, paths, etc from satellite images into the OpenStreetMap project to provide humanitarian relief organizations with GIS and map data they can use for relief efforts.

Currently they have an action call from groups like the International Red Cross/Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, etc, to “map” the parts of Africa affected by the outbreak. This map data is used to help do things like track the outbreak, do contact tracing and monitoring, victim discovery, population estimates and the like.

Apparently having these detailed maps is very helpful to the relief organizations and the maps just don’t exist at the moment.

The process is pretty simple, all web browser based to get started. You “check out” a small square of land from a mapping “task manager”, it automatically overlays the donated imagery (much more detailed than google maps or bing usually) and then you go over the image and use the browser editor tools to trace over roads, foot paths and buildings. Then you click “Save” the changes you made up to main Open Street Map database and you are done.

It only takes about 30 minutes to learn the basics of how to do this and you can immediately start helping and contributing to the effort.

I got started from this page, it is literally all you need to know to start contributing:

The browser based editor is perfectly fine to use and get the idea of what to do and help crisis map. My only advice is to make sure you “orthogonalize” every building you draw. That makes the corners square.

A tool that is much better for doing mapping is called JOSM, which automates the squaring of the buildings (among many other things).

The main page for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Ebola call to action is:

They have calls for other crisis mapping as well.

I thought others might find it interesting.

If anyone gives it a try and has any questions, please feel free to ask here and I’ll answer as best I can or point you to a better place to ask.



I never do this and I apologize for the breech of protocol, but I am bumping my own thread because we really need the help. We have additional calls from organizations in Africa to get some cities mapped asap.

If you have any interest in this please ask any questions you might have here, IM me directly or join and ask on the Humanitarian OSM Team mailing list:


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