Free, collaborative maps are uniquely valuable to humanitarian work, especially in places where base map data is often scarce, out of date, or rapidly changing. OpenStreetMap is a project to create a free and open map of the entire world, built entirely by volunteers surveying with GPS, digitizing aerial imagery, and collecting and liberating existing public sources of geographic data. The information in OpenStreetMap can fill in the gaps in base map data to assist in responses to disasters and crisis.
In the same way that the OpenStreetMap data bridges the missing information, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team [HOT] acts as a bridge between the traditional Humanitarian Responders and the OpenStreetMap Community. HOT works both remotely and physically in countries to assist the collection of geographic data, usage of that information and training others in OpenStreetMap.
The majority of the activities of HOT occur remotely. When an event occurs the first thing that happens is a search for existing data and available satellite imagery. During this time also responding organizations are contacted to determine their needs. Someone from HOT is assigned during each response to coordinate the effort. This person makes sure everyone knows when new resources are available as well as where to focus efforts. Sometimes after this type of response work in country begins. One example is the remote activity done in Ivory Coast.
HOT works physically on the ground in areas that are both prone to disaster as well as recovering. An example of post disaster work is in Haiti, after the January 2010 earthquake there was much remote activity to gather OpenStreetMap data. Starting in March of that year HOT began traveling to help support mapping and train locals and humanitarian actors how to use OpenStreetMap. Nobody would argue that data preparedness is better than a scramble after an event. This is why HOT is also involved in activities to gather data beforehand. A prime example of that is work in Indonesia to gather building information.
A link between the grassroots OpenStreetMap Community and traditional responders is the main role of HOT. We believe that free geodata can help save and improve lives in times of political crisis and natural disasters. Through our work remotely through a network of OpenStreetMap contributors and by traveling to help people map their own communities we aim to make that data available.