Latest Innovations in Crisis Mapping

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The Fourth International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM), October 11-14, 2012

Between October 11 and 14, the World Bank and George Washington University hosted the Fourth International Conference of Crisis Mappers (ICCM); attracting more than 500 people from over 20 countries and representing hundreds of different organizations and institutional affiliations.

On the 11th, training sessions on mapping techniques were provided by ESRI, OpenStreetMap, Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS. On the 12th, the main session where a keynote speech by Robert Kirkpatrick of United Nations (UN) Global Pulse and nearly 30 ignite presentations were made, covering a truly wide array of topics introducing the latest innovative use of technologies, trends and applications for data collection, analysis and visualization, particularly near-real time data, in the crisis context. In this environment where technology is fast moving at an unprecedented rate, forums like the annual ICCM meeting have an important role in sharing the latest developments and products as well as bridging the technical community and the potential end users with a view to make operations more efficient and to capture critical development related data in an innovative manner.

The keynote speech by Robert Kirkpatrick focused on “big data” and how UN Global Pulse is using digital data that leave their footprints to monitor and analyze the world in near-real time, leading to more efficient interventions.

Representing GFDRR as the main sponsor and the World Bank Institute, Niels Holm-Nielsen, the DRM regional coordinator for the LAC region, welcomed the participants. Referring to the Sendai Dialogue event that happened in Japan the same week as ICCM, also hosted by GFDRR and the Japanese Government, he put the work ICCM participants are undertaking into the context of DRM saying that the importance of DRM is being recognized by the finance ministries around the world and that the work presented at the ICCM will bring about further innovation into our practices.

The tools introduced included those that can assist in the identification of a crisis through social media as well as tools to assist response activities, for both natural disasters and other types of crisis. Many incorporated the use of platforms such as the well-known OpenStreetMap, an open source worldwide street-level map platform where data can be created and shared openly.

There were some good examples of applications that were designed to make sense of the increasingly large amount of text information generated through social media. Just looking at Twitter alone, given that there are approximately 400 million tweets every day, applications that eliminate redundancies and repetitions that cover the same event but in different words, are necessary. Crisis Tracker and Twitcident were examples of such applications, designed to improve the information supply to emergency services during big incidents, by reducing redundancies and repetitions in the text information, presenting the most reliable and trustworthy ones that fulfill their information needs.

Other participants addressed the needs for accurate information and the inevitable data gaps during a crisis. As one participant commented, disasters are never what we expect and decisions are made when they are made. It is more important to “know what you need to know and make sense of the data.” It is better to be “approximately right” than “precisely wrong.” Recognizing this, it was argued that there is still a need for human curators, who have the judgment and flexibility to assess the quality of data.

Crisis mapping is a fast expanding field, based on incredible and innovative uses of new and emerging technologies. As participants shared their insights and knowledge, it was apparent that the hyperconnectivity represented by much of the emerging technologies is occurring in a real time environment

The meeting took place in the World Bank Headquarters and on the George Washington University campus. Main sponsors and partners include: GFDRR Labs, the World Bank Institute (WBI), George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, ESRI, Google, Ushahidi, John Carroll University, GeoEye, Digital Globe, Random Hacks of Kindness and AT&T. The team is currently busy organizing for the ICCM 2013 event in Nairobi, Keny and welcomes you to join us there.

About Crisis Mappers

The International Network of Crisis Mappers operates at the “intersection between humanitarian crises, technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis mapping.” Launched in 2009, the network brings together a diverse community of engaged practitioners, scholars, software developers, and policy makers at the cutting edge of crisis mapping and humanitarian technology. The network leverages powerful mapping, crowdsourcing and other technologies to enhance the ability to respond to complex humanitarian emergencies.The Crisis Mappers Network has nearly 5,000 members in over 160 countries, who are affiliated with over 2,000 different institutions, including over 400 universities, 50 United Nations agencies, dozens of leading technology companies, several volunteer and technical community networks, and disaster response and recovery organizations.

Content and photos courtesy of Keiko Saito, Eric Palladini and Christina Irene, The World Bank. For more information, please contact