Tracking An Ebola Outbreak In A City Without Maps

Sarah Zhang | Gizmodo | April 11, 2014

If you Google Map Guéckédou, the Guinean city smack dab in the Ebola virus's deadly domain right now, you'd see just an abstract blotch of beige and yellow. Zoom all the way in on satellite view, and you can barely make out the outlines of buildings. Don't even think about trying Street View. Google Maps simply reflects the state of mapping in parts of Guinea. There are no good maps of Guéckédou-until the good folks of the internet help create one.

If look at the same city in OpenStreetMap, you'll find roads, buildings, and pharmacies clearly marked and labeled-the product of a recent crowdsourced effort that took less than a day. This crowdsourced map could be the future of humanitarian relief.

For aid workers flying into a foreign country, not having a map means literally not knowing where to start. After Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) arrived in Guinea last month, they found only topographical maps, which had no information about population density. They then asked the digital mapping organization Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to create the first building-by-building maps of the area based on satellite imagery. Here's how it worked out, as New Scientist reports.