Nieuws - 25 maart 2011

Alterra draws up-to-date map of Japan

Students and employees of Alterra yesterday put a piece of Japan on the map. In the name of rescue work, that is, also known as humanitarian mapping.

Although Google-maps is a wonderful product, it is useless in disaster areas. It is not up-to-the-minute. Take Japan after the earthquake in Sendai, as an example. Roads become impassable; buildings have collapsed. 'A rescue worker can't navigate with it anymore, and you don't know if a road suddenly leads to a dead end', explains Lieke Verhelst of the Geo-Information Team of Alterra. An up-to-date map, especially with details, can make the difference between life and death.
About thirty students and employees of Alterra yesterday took upon themselves - for humanitarian reasons - the task of producing an up-to-date map of Japan. The idea came from PhD student Daniel Orellana from Ecuador. He has been involved for three years as a volunteer in humanitarian mapping. He spends an hour now and then to update maps for charity. His idea found support among the students of the subject 'Earth Observation'. This has resulted in Alterra's Open-Street-Map map-athon of yesterday. 
Openstreetmap is the international organization behind this cartography project with a simple principle: together make maps as up-to-date as possible. Like Wikipedia, but involving maps. You create an account, look for the section of a map which you want to work on, and get hold of the corresponding satellite photo. The related software places these neatly on top of each another and work can begin. There's a cartographer in each of us.
Disaster hub
The maps of openstreetmap are very much used in practice, Verhelst says. 'Usage has soared since the Haiti disaster. A project like this can be found for every disaster hub in the world which requires good cartographic information.' The activity in Alterra is purposely being carried out after the usual working hours. 'We want this to be seen as a donation of our knowledge to the rescue work in Japan.'