This is cool. Via Reuters: Online volunteers map uncharted Ebola zones to help save lives. Excerpt:
Donating to disasters used to mean writing a check to Oxfam or the Red Cross.
These days in the Internet age, for the Ebola crisis, citizens from all over the world are donating their time by going online to build maps for relief workers.
Call it crowd-sourced cartography that can save lives.
Roads or paths to remote villages through deep forest in West Africa, bridges and river crossings, school buildings that can be used as temporary clinics, an open field for a helicopter landing - all these are visible from satellite imagery and provide critical information for delivering aid.
However, these details never made it onto official maps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone - countries too poor to worry about whether there are accurate Google Maps loaded onto smartphones.
So when the Ebola epidemic erupted earlier this year, Doctors without Borders, the American Red Cross and other groups on the ground found that unreliable maps made fighting the spread of the deadly virus much more difficult.
They could not trace the likely vectors of transmission because they did not know the patterns of peoples' daily lives, and they could not plan effective aid delivery.
Enter the collaborative Ebola project by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).
OpenStreetMap is a project to create a free, open map of the world, built by volunteers through GPS surveying, aerial imagery, and public sources of geographic data.
Taking that concept a step further, HOT connects the OpenStreetMap community with humanitarian players on the ground to fill in the gaps on maps for disaster and crisis zones.
Around 1,200 volunteers so far have logged onto HOT's website, clicked on a map quadrant and traced in the rich geographic details visible from satellites.
A quick tutorial guides volunteers through the work, which is similar to using a software programme like Adobe Photoshop.
By using the satellite imagery to add details like population density and connecting paths between communities, remote map makers give humanitarian groups vital tools for planning their ground campaign in combatting a disease that has claimed more than 2,400 lives.
"They will print out the maps poster sized and pin them on the wall to plan their work, how to distribute supplies," said Pierre Beland, a 67-year-old retired economist living near Montreal who has turned his computer knowledge to map making.
For Andrew Buck, an unemployed 29-year-old computer scientist who logs on daily from his home in Fargo, North Dakota, the map work transports him a continent away.
"You are acutely aware and start to get a sense of being in that place and learn about how people live, their farms, the fields, where the kids play soccer, the schools, and connections to the next village," Buck said in a telephone interview.
A link to the HOT site is now in the Ebola Resources list.