Over the course of just a few hours on a Friday afternoon, 20 volunteers in Chicago helped map the future of emergency response efforts across the world without having to step foot on an airplane.
In an age where we heavily rely on GPS, digital technology and Googling for instant results, it’s a shock to many that much of the world does not officially live on a map. This makes it especially difficult for first responders to navigate (literal) uncharted areas when they need to deliver help quickly.
In the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois’ fifth “Mapathon,” on December 11th, a handful of public volunteers alongside employees from Discover worked together to map out a town in Kenya, where traffic accidents are one of the most common and deadly disasters. Without reliable maps, it makes it very hard for organizations like the Kenya Red Cross to accurately track where most accidents happen and how to create plans to prevent them in the future.
“It’s actually pretty relaxing! And it’s way more satisfying spending time doing this instead of playing Candy Crush,” Discover employee Keenan said while plotting a new road on the grid.
The concept is simple: the American Red Cross together with the British Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formed Missing Maps—a project to put more than 20 million people onto a free and editable map of the world.
Anyone with internet access can help trace sections of a community using satellite imagery as a guide on a digital map. Zero technical training, course requirements or traveling is required. Mapping experts then double-check volunteer work to make sure it’s accurate, and the maps become usable.
It’s also a convenient solution to one of the most frequent questions people ask the Red Cross after an international disaster happens: “How can I help from where I am?”
American Red Cross volunteers continue to map communities in response to several disasters like the Nepal and Haiti earthquakes and the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic in West Africa.
A few volunteers even said they’d continue the Mapathon at home.
“I’ll definitely be telling my friends about this,” Keenan added. “I get now how important maps are in the world.”
Story and photos by Katie Wilkes, Regional Marketing Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois
To participate in the Missing Maps project, or to organize a Mapathon of your own, contact Jim McGowan or Ryan Bank at email@example.com.