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Media (R)evolutions: Mapping Nepal after the earthquake

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, rattling the country and affecting 8 million people across 39 districts, with a quarter of those in the worst affected areas. More than 5,000 people have been confirmed dead so far.

Relief agencies are now in the country, providing supplies, administering medical treatment, and searching for survivors.  In an effort to support disaster responders, teams of volunteers around the world are scouring through thousands of high-resolution satellite images to provide those on the ground with as much information as possible so they can do their jobs most effectively.

Many of these so-called “crisis mappers” are untrained volunteers who compare before and after images of the affected areas to tag buildings that have collapsed, roads that are blocked, and areas of heavy debris.  This provides crucial information to disaster response teams on the ground.

The people of Nepal have also been utilizing other tools to locate missing family and friends, identify themselves as safe, and find rescue and gathering places where help can be obtained.

Here are a few of the initiatives underway:

  • Humanitarian Open Street Map (HOT) is using open, collaborative mapping to locate roads, humanitarian assistance outposts, and buildings. HOT serves as a link between the grassroots OpenStreetMap Community and traditional responders. HOT also maintains a wiki page that lists tasks and instructions that allow anyone with a computer and an internet connection to participate.
  • Now, HOT is coordinating with Stanford University’s Mapping for Nepal to operate a task manager that breaks up the numerous mapping needs into smaller tasks. This Task Manager was developed by the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction, USAID, World Bank, GFDRR and American Red Cross. So far, 2,182 mappers have made 58,250 edits to highways and 91,850 edits to buildings. A validation system has been put in place to account for the volunteer status of many of the mappers. With a second pair of eyes cross-checking every bit of data put into a different square, more experienced mappers that have been contributing for years can act as another check point in the system. They can also make big-picture edits by looking at the entire map and identifying areas that have been underserved.
  • Digital Globe, based in the state of Colorado in the United States, deployed its FirstLook system, a subscription service that provides responders with pre- and post-earthquake images, and directed its WorldView-1, WorldView-3, and GeoEye-1 satellites to take high-resolution images of affected areas and make them available for search, rescue and relief organizations. They've also activated their crowdsourcing platform Tomnod that enables individuals around the world to use before and after photos to tag collapsed buildings, blocked roads and other areas of major destruction.
  • In November 2012, in partnership with the government of Nepal, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) launched a project to build seismic resilience in the education and health infrastructure of Kathmandu Valley’s.  They created a disaster risk model to determine the relative vulnerability of buildings.  To support the development of this model, Open Cities Kathmandu worked with university students and community groups to collect structural data for 2,256 schools and 350 health facilities in the Kathmandu Valley. In addition, the team worked to create a comprehensive base map of the valley by digitizing over 100,000 building footprints, mapping the road network, and collecting information on other major points of interest. The Open Cities team also conducted significant outreach to universities, technical communities, and government in order to expand the OSM community. Over 2,300 individuals participated in OSM trainings or presentations during the first year of the project.  This gave the crisis mappers a huge head start, compared to other natural disasters, because they already had good information on what the capital city and the surrounding area was like before the earthquake struck.
  • Kathmandu Living Labs, staffed by participants in the first phase of the Open Cities project, was established to continue the work. It recently received funding from ICIMOD, a local technical organization, and the US Embassy in order to conduct OpenStreetMap trainings and mapping activities.
  • The Humanitarian Digital Exchange, a platform launched last summer by the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, allows humanitarian agencies to upload, analyze, and share data to target relief efforts. As of the night of April 26, the exchange had logged 28 sets of data about Nepal, including information about education facilities in the Kathmandu Valley, roads, health facilities, rivers and local governmental units.
  • ShakeMap for the 2015-04-25 Nepal earthquakeThe American Red Cross in DC also has “shake map” that uses US Geological Survey EarthExplorer data, and integrates its data with the 2011 Nepal Census to show were most people are likely to be affected. The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies launched a “surge desk” and deployed its tracing service, which allows anyone to search for missing relatives or to report that they are alive. Reports from USGS already show the numbers of people affected and likely economic damage.
  • Google Earth has a page devoted to Nepal rescue request and gathering places. It also launched its Person Finder, a crowdsourced database that allows people to report the names of those who may be missing using either a computer or mobile phone. The platform was tracking about 4,800 names as of April 26 night US eastern time.
  • Another Google tool, the Person Finder, uses SMS to allow anyone to search for or update information on people that might have been lost or found during a disaster. The service has already tracked more than 5,300 records since April 25, and records can state the health of a missing person, or confirm that they have been found. Anyone can contribute to the records, from friends and families to first responders and NGOs.
  • Facebook launched its "Safety Check" to help affected people confirm their safety status. The site uses the city listed in an individual’s profile as well as data on where he/she most recently accessed the Internet to determine whether they may be affected by a natural disaster.  Facebook then sends a push notification asking if the person is safe. When he/she confirms their safety, their friends receive a notification as well.
Nepal Earthquake: Before And After In Kathmandu

Maps of aftershocks by United States Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons
Photograph of ShakeMap by United States Geological Survey Wikimedia Commons
Vidoe of before and after photographs via Wired


Submitted by nischal on


Submitted by sailendra on

wow GOD

Submitted by lhakpa gyalu sherpa on

as of an article published in the gorkhapatra daily, the collapse of some historical monuments for example the Dharahara which impacted in 1934 AD earthquake was rebuilt within 2 years and its was just used for special announcement by Nepali army. But it has been used for commercial purpose with construction of giant building complexes around surroundings the load bearing capacity of it ...may have been result of collapse since the clock tower remain safe this time which was damaged before?

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