Evacuating those affected by the Nepal earthquake is not an easy task, but an attempt to simplify it is being made by a group of concerned internet-aware individuals from different parts of the country. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap team has been working towards making maps more useful by means of open-source (software that is free to be modified and used by anyone) tools at their disposal during emergency situations. The organization has started this initiative for the Nepal earth-quake and Mapbox, an organization that Sajjad Anwar, a Bengaluru based hacktivist and programmer is associated with, has been helping out in this regard. Sajjad and eleven others have been working round the clock from Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Kolkata, updating the open-source maps with the help of other volunteers. “They (relief and rescue operation teams) do not know how to find their way to exact locations”, says Sajjad to The News Minute, who adds that maps created by satellite imagery are pictures and “can’t be used for analysis”. He further explains by saying that rescue and relief operations wouldn't exactly know if there was a lake, road or any other feature in the area and that teams in position don’t have proper ground information. “Large agencies can’t help in this regard” he says and adds that “we can help in case of emergency response scenarios”. The image above has been taken from Mapbox's blog with its description saying that "Despite clouds, we are able to gather enough information to trace roads and buildings in some areas of Kathmandu with imagery captured on Sunday by DigitalGlobe’s constellation". ‘Tasks’ are assigned according to satellite information gathered from open sourcing tools to those who have signed up for the cause. Sajjad mentions that twelve people had volunteered at their office in Bengaluru on Sunday when they had just begun operations. He says that eight other people had turned up on Monday and added that he expects more people to turn up. The various tools help the users and volunteers to identify geographical features like residential areas, notable buildings and better access routes which can be integrated into the open maps to give a better picture of the area. A micro-tasking tool splits the entire task of dividing the map into fragments and anyone from anywhere in the world can edit it. Once a member of the online community picks up a fragment, it is then inaccessible to any other user to edit. The skill level of different “mappers” varies according to their experience. As soon as the user is done editing, an “experienced mapper” approves of the update and after another round of cross-checking, it is put out. “Troops from the US are using it during the relief operations”, says Sajjad, adding that they had sent out emails and called government agencies in India to ask if our troops could use it too, but no response has been received yet. The 26-year-old also talks of a community called the Kathmandu Living Labs who are helping out local agencies with similar information and aiding the rehabilitation process. Image Courtesy: Kathmandu Living Labs Facebook page Since the service is open-sourced, it can be modified by anyone under the sun and needs protective measures to ensure accurate information. “We have tools to flag bulk edits and scan such data”, clarifies Sajjad who says that a lot of mappers from around the world are constantly looking after the edited information and tracking any changes made in the data.
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