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Haiti: Online Maps Shift from Charting Damage to Targeting Aid

Here are some maps that humanitarian aid responders are using to communicate the evolving situation in Haiti’s earthquake zone. Nearly a week after the disaster — and aftershocks equal to major temblors — the maps and satellite imagery are proving some of the most reliable information available.

The Ushahidi Network has created a very detailed interactive map overlaying information on threats, people needing assistance, medical care, food and other aid availability by type. The map is being updated as information is received via the Ushahidi network, Twitter and Web form.  Ushahidi's Erik Hersman, in an email message, said the system was processing mostly web and Twitter communication in the first days after the quake, because cell networks were down in much of southern Haiti. That's changing and cell service, which is more widely distributed, “is bringing in a lot more reports.”

Crisis Commons, a network of technology professionals that creates tools for humanitarian relief response, has announced that it has undertaken a similar project to map relief efforts and to generate a crisis-specific baseline map of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, for relief agencies to use as planning reference. The project has just begun.

In New York City, the New York Public Library has a series of maps online showing camps where survivors are finding shelter. A second set identifies damaged areas and buildings. They are being edited and updated.

Most other imagery is not interactive, but arguably gives a broader overview of the situation. This image from the Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information measures distances from the quake’s epicenter to where people lived in southern Haiti pre-quake. It’s color-coded to reflect population density.

According to the map, the Hatian state of Leogane, though it has not been identified by name in many news reports, was the quake’s epicenter, and contains several heavily-populated areas. Carrefour, a large suburb of Port-au-Prince, is on Leogane state's border. The city of Jacmel, on the coast, is also in Leogane and badly damaged. As of late yesterday, broken roads and bridges were still cutting off the area, which is closer to the epicenter than Port au Prince is, from receiving aid.

The US Geological Survey has put information into a very easy to read chart of cities by population, color-coded by the quake’s intensity. The result is a very fast way to understand just how many people were living in the places hit hardest by the disaster. USGS has also posted a map of the earthquake reports it has received by phone. It shows perceptions from people phoning the USGS to tell them what they saw.

The NYTimes has created a three-dimensional map that is extremely useful for understanding where Port-au-Prince lies in relation to Haiti’s geology. It shows the city in a coastal plan at the foot of a range of mountains that complicate aid delivery. The Times’ map also explains very clearly the location of several neighborhoods where medical aid and food distribution has begun, and shelter has become haltingly available.

Direct satellite imagery is available here. Orbital images taken as recently as yesterday are being compared to images of Port-au-Prince and the environs before the quake, like this one.

The satellite view can determine damage and needs in areas that still do not have reliable communication. In theory, night imagery should be able to tell us something similar about electricity, the availability of light, and perhaps fuel. But if those images are in use, they haven’t been made public yet.

For more on the earthquake in Haiti, visit our Special Coverage page.

The thumbnail image used in this post, Day 15 – Small World, is by kylebaker, used under a Creative Commons license. Visit kylebaker's flickr photostream.

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