GIS club to combine humanitarian relief and data with mapathons

8 October 2019

Frank Carber

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The US has relatively reliable digital maps that ease the difficulty of disaster relief, but digital maps are inconsistent throughout much of the world. The Geographic Information Science (GIS) club is working to alleviate these problems.

The GIS club will host mapathons on campus to engage students with data analysis and humanitarian relief through open source platforms like OpenStreetMap, according to president and senior geography major John Hardwick.

During a mapathan, participates will use satellite imagery to develop maps that local community groups will then fill in with relevant data about local conditions that humanitarian organizations will use to plan disaster relief efforts.

OpenStreetMap is a community lead open source platform that allows users to opt-out of providing personal information.

Hardwick, saw an opportunity to utilize the infrastructure of projects like OpenStreetMap and engage students with humanitarian problems.

GIS Software.

Hardwick said that these community mapping events are healthy for communities, fostering camaraderie and a shared mission.

The GIS club is focused on fostering engagement with volunteers to trace satellite imagery. According to Hardwick, mapathons are reactive to whatever is going on in the world at any given moment. Relief mapping is focused on wherever disaster strikes.

The analytic and technical aspect of relief mapping is easy, Hardwick said. The biggest challenge is recruiting volunteers. Hardwick said that even students who are not geography majors or comfortable with technology have something to gain from GIS and mapathons.

Hardwick said that all the infrastructure for the mapathons is set up – the club is just looking for volunteers now. With community mapping events, Hardwick said that the club hopes to bring greater student engagement with software like GIS. “(GIS) is one of those things you don’t realize you need until you take one of the courses,” Hardwick said.

“I stand by the idea that GIS is one of the things you can take in almost any field and make you stand out from your peers.” GIS is a powerful tool for students, and the program can be a starting point for students interested in learning the software, Hardwick said.

The club’s team members have set up the server to prepare for the mapathons and are hoping to recruit undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines to take part in GIS mapping.

The GIS club meets every second and fourth Thursday of each month from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. in Columbine Hall 331.