The response to Typhoon Haiyan was a watershed moment for humanitarian uses of OpenStreetMap and crowdsourcing in general. The numbers speak for themselves: over 1,700 volunteers contributing 4.5 million edits, or roughly 3 to 4 years worth of mapping from a highly productive OpenStreetMap editor. The American Red Cross helped coordinate this response, directing volunteers to trace priority areas, based on information from the US Government and feedback from Red Cross responders in the field. The result was a rich base map of the Visayas region and a growing database of building damages contributed by volunteers eager to provide operationally useful data.
Intrigued by the possibilities of open data for powering disaster response and recovery, the US Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance approached the American Red Cross during the early days of the disaster to commission a rapid survey of the accuracy of the building damage classifications being collected within OSM. A partnership was proposed and quickly formed with the REACH Initiative, whose proven experience administering surveys and applying GIS in complex disaster scenarios complemented well the American Red Cross’s depth of knowledge in OpenStreetMap. By November 27, 19 days after Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) made landfall, the survey team was in Tacloban preparing the methodology. The interim report below describes the process of administering this assessment, key findings and their implications for future disasters.