How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti

Patrick Meier | National Geographic | July 2, 2012

The National Geographic Society has a long history of crisis mapping disasters. But what happened in Haiti on January 12, 2010 would forever change the very concept of a crisis map. A devastating earthquake struck the country’s capital that Tuesday afternoon. I was overwhelmed with emotions when I heard the news just an hour later. Over 100,000 people were feared dead. Some very close friends of mine were doing research in Port-au-Prince at the time and I had no idea whether they had survived the earthquake.

So I launched a live crisis map of Haiti. But this was an emotional reaction rather than a calculated plan with a detailed strategy. I was in shock and felt the need to do something, anything. It was only after midnight that I finally got an SMS reply from my friends. They had narrowly escaped a collapsing building. But many, many others were not near as lucky. I continued mapping.
Sourcing the Map

This is what the map looked liked after midnight on January 13th. What was I mapping exactly? Tweets. I had found a dozen Haitians tweeting live from Port-au-Prince shortly after the earthquake. They were describing scenes of devastation but also hope as this tweet shows...