Disaster Relief Mapathon


Photo Credit: Christine Coyle

Written by: Freya Rich ’20 (Web Staff Writer)

On Thursday evening the Norton Family Center for the Common Good along with the Katharine Brush Library hosted a Disaster Relief Mapathon and invited the entire Loomis community to attend. Co-run by Mr. LaForest, director of the Norton Center; and Mr. Boyles Petersen, Outreach Librarian, the event allowed students and faculty to learn about the OpenStreetMap technology and gain the skills necessary to contribute to the community-driven creation of open source maps of the world, especially rural locations that are prone to natural disasters or have experienced disasters firsthand.

According to Mr. LaForest, the event was designed with the goal of, “Providing [the community] a new way of engaging with global issues”. He went on to mention the distinction between always relying on fundraisers and donation as a means of philanthropy when hands on work is an often more rewarding and personal commitment.

Specifically, these maps help expedite and alleviate the work of first responders in cases of disasters. Organizations; such as USAID, the Red Cross, and even local governments, are using the maps to get an accurate layout of the communities and as baseline to reference. The maps are especially useful for, when a disaster takes place, knowing whether the area was residential or commercial and drawing important conclusions such as if civilians could be trapped in residences or there are possible chemical leaks of which to be aware. The mapping project for Khulna, Bangladesh, which some students were working on, “directly supports agricultural programs in Bangladesh,” and by mapping the rivers, transportation systems, and buildings, “[the maps] help communities in the Khulna District improve land management and increase agricultural production,” as quoted from the Mapping for Resilience webpage.

After a productive mapping session, Mr. Boyles Petersen mentioned he was, “excited and eager to see this and other initiatives take hold,” and optimistic about the “passion at Loomis to get involved in the community”. Mr. LaForest communicated a fascination with the concept as well and plans to show his Freshman Seminar students the mapping process. Keep an eye out for another mapping event in the future and consider participating in this beneficial cause.