edited.mapathon4_liztilleyBy Nicole Noce

Elm Staff Writer

Forget “X” marks the spot — why rely on following existing maps when you could contribute to making or enhancing new ones for a cause?

Washington College students, staff, and community members came together for just that purpose on Saturday for the second annual Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Program’s Missing Maps Mapathon.

Volunteers from the Chestertown and WC community were invited to participate in the Mapathon, which had a three hour long drop-in period in Goldstein Hall. Training was not necessary, and college laptops were available for all participants.

The event was a collaboration between GIS and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMaps Team, a nonprofit international team dedicated to community development through open mapping.

According to the HOT website, “Through the Missing Maps project, the HOT global community creates maps of high vulnerability areas where data is scarce, putting millions of people onto the world map in OpenStreetMap.”

According to GIS Assistant Coordinator Kelsey Newcomb, volunteers at the event traced digital lines on satellite imagery donated by private companies to form roads and simple building outlines.

OpenStreetMap is constantly being updated, so prior to Saturday, there was no way to know which area volunteers would be mapping at the Mapathon.

“Other volunteers from around the world could have started and finished an area in a day or two,” Newcomb said.

During Saturday’s event, volunteers worked on inputting new information into OpenStreetMap and updating the map to ensure its accuracy.

“During the event, you can either map new features — roads, buildings, sites — that are needed, or you can validate features that others have created. Feature creation tends to be done by volunteers and is the easier of the two,” Newcomb said.

According to Newcomb, validating features of the map requires more work, and HOT requires volunteers to have more experience before they can validate features.

“That helps to ensure the quality of the data that is being created,” Newcomb said.

The information on these maps can be used by various humanitarian organizations, including branches of the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and Doctors Without Borders.

According to Newcomb, these maps can and will be used in a broad range of scenarios, from disaster management to the study of infectious disease outbreaks. Specific current campaigns are based on the efforts of programs like Malaria Elimination, Ebola2018, Slum Mapping and SmartCities.

Along with the event at WC, Queen Anne’s County High School held a satellite event as part of student technology classes on Friday, Nov. 2.

“There are never enough volunteers for the work that needs to be done, so we can always be sure there is some part of the world we can help to understand better,” Newcomb said.

GIS has two other events coming up this month, one for interns and one for the WC community. On Nov. 9, some GIS interns will be participating in an Anne Arundel County Ride Along with law enforcement.

All students can look forward to GIS Day on Nov. 14, where GIS will have a booth in Hodson Hall from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with free swag, an interactive map game, the chance to win a gift card, and public voting for the best student-made map.

The Elm

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