Students and residents work to help hurricane rescue efforts

An aerial video view of Hurricane Maria over Dominica, collected by the Caribbean Disaster & Emergency Management Agency

An aerial video view of Hurricane Maria over Dominica, collected by the Caribbean Disaster & Emergency Management Agency

Within days of the Caribbean island of Dominica being devastated by hurricanes, 60 University of Portsmouth staff, students and local residents created up-to-date damage maps to help the rescue effort.

The digital maps showing hurricane damage were available to disaster responders in Dominica within seconds of final checks.

At least 30 people on the mountainous island are thought to have died as Hurricane Maria tore through on the heels of Hurricane Irma. The country’s prime minister told journalists that “not a street has been spared”.

The mapathon was the brainchild of Dr Richard Teeuw, leader of the Crisis and Disaster Management MSc course at Portsmouth.

He said: “Portsmouth in the UK has strong links with Portsmouth in Dominica and our local contacts have been updating us on the dramatic situation they are witnessing and their needs. What started as a natural disaster is developing into a humanitarian crisis and the UK team decided to take action, making the most of the university’s expertise.

Staff, students and residents joined forces for the mapathon to help Dominica's residents after their towns and roads were devastated by Hurricane Maria

Staff, students and residents joined forces for the mapathon to help Dominica’s residents after their towns and roads were devastated by Hurricane Maria

Guided by lecturers and an expert from the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team, the volunteers took part in a “mapathon”, interpreting very detailed space satellite imagery to create maps showing the hurricane damage  – building by building – in the dozens of villages around the coast of Dominica.

Portsmouth residents and University staff and students joined forces to spend an afternoon and evening mapping the Dominica damage.  The new detailed damage maps were in the hands of rescuers on the ground in Dominica within seconds of final quality control checks, via the online Open Street Map system. It is hoped they will help the disaster responders to save more lives and speed up the relief efforts.

Dr Teeuw said: “Hurricane Maria was a category 5 storm, with wind speeds over 250 km per hour. It devastated the island of Dominica, where we have long-standing research and educational contacts. The disaster response teams deployed to the Caribbean, which include University of Portsmouth students, urgently need maps for assessing damage and risks, so here in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences we did what we could to help by staging a mapathon.”

Volunteers were given post-disaster satellite imagery and then guided using a map system devised by the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team to add post-disaster information to maps.

Post-hurricane satellite images revealed up to 90 per cent of the island's buildings had been destroyed

Post-hurricane satellite images revealed up to 90 per cent of the island’s buildings had been destroyed

Dr Teeuw said: “We were able to access some post-hurricane satellite imagery of Dominica, from Digital Globe, who made post-hurricane imagery with 2m pixels freely available for the disaster response activities. Cloud cover was problematic but that was mainly over the central mountains and most Dominicans live on the coast.  The damage that we mapped was shocking, with up to 90 per cent of the buildings destroyed.”

Ralph Aytoun, of the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team, led the mapathon.

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