Illustration by Arijit Trivedi

Mapping group club maps areas hit by natural disasters

History teacher Bill Crabb’s Mapping Group club focuses on using open source tools to help map different areas around the world.

Junior Arijit Trivedi has mapped an entire village in the Philippines that was hit by a typhoon. His job was to map trees, buildings, and roads as part of his work for the Mapping Group Club.

The Mapping Group club has four student members and  is run by high school history teacher Bill Crabb.

The Mapping Group Club was started in October of 2020. Meetings happened once a week until events such as Thanksgiving break got in the way.

The group usually discusses their individual projects at meetings.

The club operates with the help of two resources, the open-source web based software called OpenStreetMap, and a nonprofit organization called the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

“OpenStreetMap is kind of like Google Maps, but it’s open-source,” Crabb said. “This means anyone can pull data off it and use it for their project. Think of it like Wikipedia. It’s an open source map that relies on individuals updating it, just like Wikipedia,” Crabb said.

OpenStreetMap provides individuals with projects to complete. Individuals have tools to draw lines and shapes and mark landmarks. People generally trace roads and buildings and identify locations. 

The club does basic tasks like editing maps. They practiced editing maps of Oroville, which is north of Sacramento. The goal is to get familiar with how to place locations.

The process of mapping takes two steps. There is a mapping team and a ground team. The ground team provides details like how many stories are in the building or, if there are multiple buildings, which letter identifies a building. These details help mappers do a more accurate job.

“The students now know how to do basic things on OpenStreetMap, so the idea is to now apply this in a real world situation. They have already plugged in and saved pieces of information on the site,” Crabb said.

Sophomore Ibrahim MoheyEldin said students in the club are also working on individual projects. “Right now, I just did some mapping in Indonesia,” he said.

Crabb broke down the humanitarian OpenStreetMap team, “Now, the humanitarian OpenStreetMap team is a collaborative group of  a bunch of mappers. And they do these kinds of group mapping projects where they try to create community.”

These mappers assign projects for individuals to pick up and complete according to their level of experience, which is defined through three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.

“It was created during the Haitian earthquake of 2010, or 11… aid was sent over to Haiti, but they had no maps. Google Maps wasn’t in Haiti,” Crabb said.

Crabb explained humanitarian personnel from either medical services or social services didn’t know where the issue was located. They created a humanitarian mapping group, and everyone went on OpenStreetMap and grabbed satellite imagery before the incident, mapped out communities and uploaded it to OpenStreetMap.

Crabb said the whole reason for the club’s founding is the pandemic. Crabb found a need for help with mapping the spread of COVID-19 and took advantage of it. He said he has always wanted to create opportunities for students to explore the world and took advantage of this one.

Crabb has big plans for the future of the club.

“What I would like to do is get the kids comfortable enough where they can teach it to others and create some leadership structure, if you will. So, if I’m not around, the kids can continue doing this. 

Crabb said mapping is a great way to be aware of global issues and volunteer your hard work no matter where you are.

— By Samrath Pannu

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