Imagery to the crowd…phase 1

Over the past year, the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU) at the U.S. State Department has been working with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to publish current high-resolution commercial satellite imagery during humanitarian emergencies. The imagery is used to map the affected areas, and provide a common framework for governments and aid agencies to work from. All of the map data is stored in the OpenStreetMap database ( ), under a license that ensures the data is freely available and open for a range of uses.

This work began as part of the RELIEF Exercises 11-4 at Camp Roberts in August 2011, and focused primarily on the legal and policy issues associated with sharing imagery. Now with RELIEF Exercise 12-3 happening in DC this week, the project is moving into its first technical implementation. As a proof of concept, the HIU is publishing imagery for the refugee camps in the Horn of Africa, and making the imagery available to the volunteer mapping community. The goal is to produce detailed vector data for the refugee camps, including roads and footpaths in and around the camps. There are tens of thousands of refugees living in these camps who are victims of famine and conflict, and these data can be used to improve planning for humanitarian assistance.

How to help: We are going to open access to the imagery on Monday 21 May 2012. We would like to spend two 24-hour periods tracing the areas of interest, which will include 11 refugee sites. All work will be done through the HOT Tasking Manager (, a microtasking platform that will split up the image tracing into ‘tiles’ that will require approximately 30-45 minutes to map.

Accomplishing this task will require that volunteers become familiar with OpenStreetMap and the basic concepts of mapping. But, don’t worry, there are plenty of resources out there to help. For more information on the OpenStreetMap (OSM) process, see the “Beginning OpenStreetMap Tutorial” available from the LearnOSM website (, specifically Chapters 1,2,3,6. For more information on HOT’s work in Somalia see the HOT Somalia project page, and other HOT related materials on the HOT wiki.

Installing Quantum GIS and GRASS GIS on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx)

While most advanced linux users will find this post elementary, as a ‘know enough to be dangerous’ linux user I often struggle with the simple tasks. With that in mind, this is a brief summary of the steps required to install QGIS and GRASS on Ubuntu 10.04.

The instructions provided by both the QGIS and GRASS websites are actually quite good, but there are a couple steps that intro users might miss. In terms of the workflow, the process is as such:

1. Add a new software repository
2. Reload the repository (note: this is what they don’t tell you)
3. Install software

Step 1: Add a new software repository
It appears there are a couple ways to do this: GUI, modify the /etc/apt/sources.list file, and through terminal. Since the directions on the QGIS and GRASS websites use the terminal approach, I did as well and then checked the results through the GUI.

The QGIS site posts the following:

sudo apt-get install add-apt-repository 
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntugis/ubuntugis-unstable
sudo apt-get install qgis

In my case, running these commands in sequence resulted in a error: “Package qgis is not available…” So to check what is happening I looked at the Software Sources (System–>Administration–>Software Sources) and specifically the second tab “Other Software”. If the second line of the code above executed, you will have a reference to “”. This is the correct URL that Ubuntu should look at to find the required binaries, but something is off.

The problem is that Ubuntu does not automatically check the repository for the software contained within it. To force an update, you have two choices. First is to use the GUI: Select the reference, then select ‘Edit’, don’t change anything, then select ‘Close’. The GUI will prompt that it needs to refresh, select yes. The second option would be to run: sudo apt-get update (I think). Either way, once the update completes, you can run the ‘sudo apt-get install qgis’ and it will install correctly. To install GRASS, run the command ‘sudo apt-get install grass’

I am working on the final stages of the long-delayed ‘Flat Map’ and needed to get the latest versions of the open-source GIS stack up and running. Processing for the continental U.S. is complete, the remaining steps include the creation of the index and the zonal statistics by state. Hope to have it completed by the end of October.

Modifying the KARS GeoNetwork metadata catalog

We recently had an inquiry at the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing Program (KARS) about modifications we made to our GeoNetwork instance. Specifically, the question was about setting the Intermap window to open in the large format on load, and setting the map extent.

We run the Windows version of GeoNetwork and have used these modifications for Versions 2.2, 2.4.2, and 2.4.3.

First, to call the Intermap function we modified the following files:

1) main.xsl – @ line 18 added ‘openIntermap’ function call to the onLoad event

<body onload="init(), openIntermap()">

2) main-page.xsl – @ line 281, “fillMeWithIntermap”, add ‘width: 700px;’

<tr id="intermaprow"  width="100%" height="0">
  <xsl:comment>COLLAPSABLE MAP</xsl:comment>
      <strong><div id="fillMeWithIntermap" style="display: none; width: 700px;"></strong>
      <!--  This DIV will be filled dynamically with intermap contents -->

Note that this modification did require some additional CSS modifications, specifically the Z-Index of the map elements had to be re-ordered so they would be drawn last.

Second, modifying the properties that Intermap used at load were modified in the file:

3) In row 19 and 20, change the initial width and height of window from w=368 h=276 to w=450 h=300.

 // these are the values of initial width and height. 
var im_bm_wsize0 = 450;
var im_bm_hsize0 = 300;

4) Inserted a line (line 19) to define the map extent (zoom) of the Intermap big map window to North America.

 Line 19: im_bm.setBBox(51.56155, -66.07543, 21.629387, -125.93976)
Line 20 for comments: // view of the United States (minx="-125.93976" miny="21.629387" maxx="-66.07543" maxy="51.56155") 

5) Modified the default scale zoom parameters for the intermap window on load to include 1:24,000.
File: \geonetwork\web\intermap\xsl\index-embedded.xsl

At line 141, an option for the value “24000” was added

<select name="im_setscale" id="im_setscale" onchange="javascript:im_bm_setScale();">
<option id="im_currentscale" value=""><xsl:value-of select="/root/gui/strings/setScale</option>                    
    <option value="50000000">1:50.000.000</option>
    <option value="10000000">1:10.000.000</option>
    <option value="5000000">1:5.000.000</option>
    <option value="1000000">1:1.000.000</option>
    <option value="500000">1:500.000</option>
    <option value="100000">1:100.000</option>
    <option value="50000">1:50.000</option>
    <option value="24000">1:24.000</option>
    <option value="10000">1:10.000</option>
    <option value="5000">1:5.000</option>
    <option value="1000">1:1.000</option>                    

Additional modifications can be found in the following document KBS_GeoNetwork_Modifications. Any comments or additional suggestions for modifications are welcome.

GIS 2.0 and Humanitarian Information Management Lecture

Today I gave a guest lecture to the Prof. Stephen Egbert and Prof. Shannon O’Lear ‘s ‘Geography and Genocide’ class (Geography 571) at the University of Kansas. Students in this class come from a range of backgrounds, so the content was designed as an introduction to GIScience and it’s potential applications. This included a brief review of GIS 2.0 concepts, and moved on to show how these tools are being utilized in humanitarian applications.

It is always interesting to introduce people to these technologies. The Open Street Map – Project Haiti video just blows people away. I like to show it first as an indication of what GIS 2.0 is all about — open source GIS software combined with inexpensive, powerful hardware is allowing people to interact, produce, and consume geographic data in amazing ways. Back this up with a review of Ushahidi-Haiti, the role of Twitter in Iran, and the utility of virtual globes loaded with high-resolution satellite imagery in Darfur, and you see the lights go on.

OpenStreetMap – Project Haiti from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

This lecture also gave me the opportunity to review some the KML datasets I have been working on for the Humanitarian Information Unit regarding Darfur and DRC. While there is nothing earth-shattering about mapping point data in KML, utilizing the time component and animation capability in Google Earth does begin to translate a dataset into a story (or geo-narrative as Madden and Ross call it). I’ll make these available as soon as possible.

The PowerPoint presentation can be downloaded here (23MB).

GIS 2.0 lecture at the University of Kansas

On Tuesday (23 Feb 2010) I presented a lecture to Prof. Terry Slocum’s Geography seminar on Neogeography. The class is a good group and have plans for an interactive web map of the KU campus.

Beyond the lecture summary, a Google LatLong blog post describes a new method for using Google Fusion tables for storing geographic data and creating custom maps. I believe this may be a real benefit for this group, and take some of the programming difficulty out of creating this application.

Link to blog post:

Lecture Presentation:

Neogeography Lecture for KU Geography 911 (JSC)

8th Annual KU GIS Day Symposium

GIS Day 2009 at the University of Kansas was an unquestionable success. Now in its 8th year the GIS Day Symposium continued its trend of bringing a quality mix of speakers to the university and attracting a diverse crowd from academia, government, and business. The speaker selection was balanced and had elements of GIS data structures for moving objects, open source software, biological conservation, transportation infrastructure modeling, and flood inundation modeling. The information fair (which started three years ago) had the largest vendor participation yet and the modified location in the Kansas Union, to the main lobby on the fourth floor for the information fair and Alderson Auditorium for the talks was a nice pairing. I am continually impressed with the quality of work presented in the student competition (full disclosure: I participated this year as well, more on this below).

This was the first year in the last six that I didn’t have a significant hand in the planning of GIS Day. While initially I wondered what would happen to the day, I can safely say this year was one of the best. Eric Weber (a MA student in Geography) stepped up to continue the tradition of Geography graduate student leadership, and Xan Wedel (KU Institute for Policy and Social Research), Rhonda Houser (KU Libraries), Joel Plummer (KU PhD Candidate in Geography), and Xingong Li (KU Professor in Geography) continued with their longstanding efforts as members of the Planning Committee. I can assure you that it is not easy to plan and execute a GIS Day and these folks (along with the other KU geography graduate students who helped out) deserve a lot of thanks for putting in the effort.

Personally, it was extremely gratifying that all of our hard work in previous years carried through in this the first year that didn’t involve either myself or Matt Dunbar (who was integral to GIS Day for the first five years). As a tongue-in-cheek joke, but I hope also sincere gesture, the long-term members of the planning committee listed above surprised me with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for significant contributions to the Geography and GIS communities at KU. While I recognize the intended humor in this, I really do appreciate my colleagues recognition of the many years of effort I put into GIS Day. If this year is any measure, we’ve created a framework for success and built something that can last into the future.

The presentation and videos for the day will be available on the GIS Day website in the coming weeks. My presentation is available at this link. The final report of the project and data files will be posted later.

'Lifetime Achievement Award'

First International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009)

Crisis Mapping is an evolving set of technologies and approaches, spanning a variety of disciplines, that is focused on information management, analysis, and visualization for crisis events. Fundamentally Crisis Mapping is focused on responding to humanitarian disasters; these can range from natural disasters like floods and earthquakes to ‘complex’ disasters caused by human conflict. Currently there is no defined field of Crisis Mapping, but the taxonomy of Crisis Mapping proposed by Meier and Zeimke is a good start at outlining the scope and sub-domains of the field. The First International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM 2009) was directed by Patrick Meier and Jen Zeimke and therefore used the taxonomy as guide for the conference. The conference also began with a series of Ignite talks. While sitting through 24 consecutive 5-minutes talks is a bit of an overload, it effectively give everyone a common base for understanding the topics and talents in the group. The roundtable portion of ICCM 2009 was structured to address each of the taxonomy components. These roundtables started with good panels to get the ideas flowing and then opened up for everyone to participate; this created a very fluid and stimulating environment.

Crisis Mapping sits at the intersection of several different topics: humanitarian disasters, sustainable development, information technology, geographic information systems, mobile technology, Web 2.0, etc. Utilizing Crisis Mapping tools during a humanitarian disaster has many potential configurations of technologies and organizational structures. The question for me is how can this problem be optimized? The power of combining geographic information systems and mobile communications is undeniable, but that fact alone does not solve the implementation problem. This is the value of ICCM — put the lead users from the various communities in the same place and see what shakes loose. As a newcomer to the humanitarian field, my focus at ICCM was to sit back and listen. This was my first direct interaction with folks who do this for a living and I wanted to hear about the issues, opportunities, challenges, rewards, and predictions of how the convergence of technologies now described as ‘crisis mapping’ would impact their domains. The range of people in attendance, and who have subsequently become the core of the Crisis Mappers Network, was a variety of UN, NGOs, foundations, USG, software developers/neogeographers, and academics. Each group brought a valuable perspective to the discussions. The only group that I felt was missing was from the cellular telecommunications industry. Ultimately many of the technologies that will be developed for crisis mapping are based on ubiquitous access to mobile voice and data, and having the cellular companies on board during the product development phase would likely prove useful.

Ultimately it was the collection of people and ideas at the ICCM conference that made it a unique experience. In some ways it was similar to the energy of the FOSS4G conferences, but in this case, two factors made it stand out. First, the humanitarian focus meant that inherently the the cost of failure is measured in human lives; something that cannot be understated. Second, this felt like getting in at the ground floor of something great. I’m left with the distinct feeling that in twenty years I’ll look back and say “I was in the room at the first one”.