Ushahidi is an open source crisismapping and reporting platform. It powers the work of many of the crisismapping groups outlined earlier. The nonprofit offers three products. The flagship Ushahidi application is a self-hosted platform that facilitates crowdsourced information from email, SMS, and Twitter. Ushahidi has also launched a hosted mapping platform, Crowdmap, to aggregate crowdsourced information and visualize it on maps or timelines. Crowdmap also supports mobile “check-ins” for fast, easily geo-located on-the-ground updates. Finally, the aforementioned SwiftRiver product seeks to help manage the large volumes of incoming data generated by social media. has continued developing increasingly sophisticated crisis maps (which they refer to simply as “Custom Google Maps”). The maps are based on the powerful (and commercial) Google Maps platform, but many of the layers of useful crisis data are generated, collected, or gathered by online crisis responders like the team.

Figure 3.11:’s Crisis Response maps support various layers of actionable information and visual content


OpenStreetMap (OSM) is a volunteer-driven open alternative to Google Maps. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) mobilizes the broader OSM community to assist formal humanitarian actors in times of crisis. The volunteers work remotely and occasionally locally to map geographic data and satellite imagery and meet humanitarian needs. They’ve worked remotely to help in the Ivory Coast, remotely and locally in Haiti, and preventively in Indonesia. Most recently, HOT used MapMill (see below) in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to coordinate the crowdsourced tagging of Civilian Air Patrol images of damage along the New Jersey coastline. A huge number of images were quickly rated for the apparent degree of storm damage.

The technology powering mapping platforms continues to advance, improving the range of ways maps can aid in crisis situations. OpenIR, the aforementioned platform developed by my MIT Media Lab colleague Arlene Ducao, improves access to allow mapping of the ecological features and risks identified by copious but historically inaccessible infrared satellite data. Another mapping project with origins in the MIT Media Lab is MapMill. This open source Public Laboratory project by Jeffrey Warren allows a community to collaboratively process large numbers of map images, as HOT did with coastline damage following Hurricane Sandy.

Building the mapping platforms themselves is a highly skilled volunteer opportunity. Once deployed, the software invites contributions from a range of skilled or unskilled contributors. These projects invite a range of contributions consisting mostly of collecting, preparing, and plotting crisis data onto the map, as detailed in the Situational Awareness section (3.3.4).