Crisis-mapping technology has emerged in the past five years as a tool to help humanitarian organizations deliver assistance to victims of civil conflicts and natural disasters.
Crisis-mapping platforms display eyewitness reports submitted via e-mail, text message, and social media. The reports are then plotted on interactive maps, creating a geospatial record of events in real time. Once these reports are manually collated, they became a live crisis map of urgent humanitarian needs. For example, the map could show exactly where victims lay buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings, and where medical supplies needed to be delivered.
After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011, eyewitnesses and other observers posted more than 300,000 tweets every minute during the disaster and its aftermath. In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the eastern seaboard of the United States, eliciting more than 20 million tweets.
The pioneers behind the first wave of crisis-mapping technology were typically gifted hackers from the dynamic open-source community. Creating the next generation of these technologies will require additional skills in data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and social computing.
Welcome to the world of big (crisis) data, in which disaster-affected locations are increasingly becoming digital communities, thanks to the proliferation of social media and smartphones.