Op-eds

How Crisis Mapping Saved Lives in Haiti: Op-Ed by Patrick Meier (F12)

National Geographic

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.

Th[e] incredible efforts following the Haiti earthquake demonstrated a huge potential for the future of humanitarian response. Student volunteers in Boston working online with the Diaspora using free mapping technology from Africa could help save lives in another country thousands of miles away without ever setting foot in said country. In time, these reactive and organic volunteer-driven efforts in Haiti, and those that followed that same year in Chile, Pakistan and Russia, led to the launch of the award-winning Standby Volunteer Task Force (SBTF), a global network of 850+ volunteers in more than 80 countries around the world who support humanitarian, human rights, development and media organizations using their live mapping skills.

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