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Data + Mapping for Ebola Epidemic, West Africa

In response to the Ebola epidemic, mapping and open data communities have come together in various ad-hoc forums to collectively advance knowledge, data & innovation- often from afar, often in hopes of being useful to individuals and organizations situated in West Africa.

I attended the Ebola Open Data Jam with Meetup on 10/18/2014 in NYC; the following session is designed in part to continue the work that was done during the first meetup in NYC:

Open Data for Africa Planning 10/7/2014 | Washington DC

These sessions are supported and promoted by individuals and organizations; specifically Steven Adler with IBM; Jeanne Holm with & NASA and Rich Robbins with Upper West Strategies.

During the NYC session, there was a lot of ‘noise’ to start, and some ‘signal’ at the end. Specifically, three major themes emerged. First, the need to develop, decipher and distribute data sets in open repository formats; second, the need to get a handle on the locational capacity of cell phone usage and SMS, as well as ‘big data’ originating in West Africa; and third, contributing VGI (volunteered geographic information) to assist logistical efficiency of humanitarian efforts and organizations.

The first, understandable task for dealing with the epidemic from a technical standpoint is to simply access data in an open format. This is not an easy task at all as West Africa is typical of many developing countries in that data organization is not necessarily a priority issue. To address this challenge, the meetup is utilizing a DKAN open data platform. Steven Adler has been adamant that data supported within the platform conforms to standard metadata model (DCAT>DCAT+).

The repository resulting from the meetup sessions:

[ ]

The second task involves harnessing the power of locational capacity of cell phones, SMS (short message service) and other ICT (information and communications technology) to track and analyze the potential spread of the epidemic. In the humanitarian community there’s certainly been marked progress over the years in strategies for working with ICT; the Ebola epidemic is yet another test of these advances. The meetup struggled with conceptualizing an approach to deal with ‘big data’, esp. Twitter, utilizing its time stamp and locational capacity. There was a fair amount of discussion on the prospect of gaining access to ICT data in West Africa. One very recent advance that may prove helpful in this ongoing task is the establishment of Social Media Hashtag Standards for Disaster Response. This standardization would greatly assist in the effort to pull out the ‘signal’ from social media ‘noise’.

The third task incorporated the VGI efforts of a breakout group of HOT mappers for West Africa. Generally using the ID editor platform for editing OSM through HOT Tiles, the group was able to make OSM edits for high priority tiles. The following visualization captures the general ‘before’ OSM coverage vs. the ‘after’; its striking, typical of the amazing advancement that is HOT- allowing VGI mappers focused effectively on specific tasks.

OSM Coverage 'Before' [ OSM Coverage ‘Before’ ]

OSM Coverage 'After' [ OSM Coverage ‘After’ ]

OSM HOT Mappers - Ebola Open Data [ OSM HOT Mappers – Ebola Open Data ]

Going forward, hopefully these voluntary efforts will indeed be useful to fighting the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Certainly there will be ‘lessons learned’ from these efforts that can then feed into further advancements in Open Data & Mapping for Humanitarian Efforts.

Additional Resources for Open Data & Mapping for Ebola in West Africa:

HDX repository for Ebola

Good, insightful overview of tech efforts for Ebola intervention from IBM

Gabriele Almon’s overview post for Ebola mapping resources

Caitlin Rivers github repository