Mapper since: March 13, 2008

Tallguy = Nick Allen. On this page if it’s blue text it’s a link you can click on to find out more.

I’ve enjoyed being part of OSM for several years now & have learnt a great deal in the process. I like a hobby that challenges me, and preferably has en element of some kind of physical exercise - I get plenty of exercise cycling & walking whilst surveying. As it says here, an addicted mapper!

# Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team HOT has become very important to me. I like the idea that I can contribute in a meaningful way to the work of the aid agencies, but to me it’s more important to prepare for disaster before it happens.

Preparing for disaster

Most of these disasters that hit the headlines are more or less predictable, in that there are areas of the world that are prone to have problems.

Even the flooding that occured in the UK in 2014 was predictable to an extent in that the authorities state things like ‘1in 200 year chance of flooding’. But in the UK we are well mapped, really well mapped! What’s more the UK has disaster plans in place, with a choice of maps, equipment, and trained staff ready to deal with it. Yes, in the UK it was disasterous & lives were lost, but not on the same scale as happens in the less well developed areas, where thousands lose their lives when disaster strikes.

If we can prepare this in the UK, perhaps we can do something to lessen the impact for the rest of the world? Can I devote half my ‘mapping time’ to do armchair mapping for an area that will really need it?

But where & how?

HOT solves that for me. They have volunteers who work with the aid agencies & carry out thorough research on the where & the why. These volunteers spend time preparing a simple (!) system, the Tasking Manager (TM) which allows me to log in, see an area which is in need of my time, and start mapping.

But the worrying thing that you notice is that the disasters are now, but they are not in the news. Somwhere in the world, right now, there is a major disaster, or the aftermath of it. Perhaps the aftermath of the disaster is more important as it contains problems like disease & famine.

If an agency like Medecins Sans Frontieres can plot the spread of disease it may help them diagnose it, and also plan where to innoculate or vaccinate (sorry, I play with maps, not medicine, so I may have my terms wrong). They can see where the drinking water is, the access routes, and make plans that make best use of the money that has been donated.

Our most important resource

So, the vector data we call a map is the most important thing? I don’t think so.

I think our most important resource is the mappers themselves.

When disaster struct Haiti in January 2010 it was in an area of the world where very little detailed mapping was available until the OSM mapping community joined in. Within 48 hours OSM had one of the best maps available, and it was used. Paper maps, Garmin maps, OSMand, mash ups on computers, etc.


I’ve been mapping for years & I don’t always realise how much I know, which is true of a great many people who have been involved in OSM for years. But when I mapped using the TM for Haiti, or the Philipinnes (2013) I worried that what I was doing was lacking in some way. I saw there was a validation process in place, but never saw any of my work marked as validated & I thought “What about the new mappers?”, or the existing ones who provide valuable time & wonder “Have I got it right?”.

So now I spend a lot of time validating. There are many, many mappers who are better than me, and I accept that. I’m trying to make sure we reach a standard, and I prefer it if many exceed the standard. I also think it’s important for people who donate their time & skills to be appreciated, so I send messages through OSM. If I’ve validated some of the squares you have done for OSM I will send you a message, and the message varies, but there are some important things to consider;

  • I want you to continue to map for HOT.

  • If you have the skills I’d like you to validate as well.

  • I’m just as likely to make a mistake as anyone, and I’ve received many messages over the years explaining how I could improve - generally speaking they’ve been true. If you’re validating & you find an error I am making, let me know because I want to learn & improve!

  • if you haven’t mapped before, look at LearnOSM

  • One of many slideshows I’ve been involved in creating & delivering

  • I’d like there to be a vast number of mappers who validate, so that when the next disaster hits the headlines we can help & encourage the new mappers that will be drawn to help.

  • I want you to continue to map for HOT. I said that before, didn’t I. Well I mean it. I’d like to see the disaster areas mapped before the disaster happens. Practice & learn - I still am.

I’ve been involved in improving the wiki entry on validating but the credit should go to sev_hotosm = Severin Menard who provided 99% of the information & instructions.

I hope you gain as much satisfaction from your mapping as I have.