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The importance of maps in the times of crisis

With the outbreak of COVID-19 forcing big parts of the global population to stay indoors, many of us are now ordering food, medical supplies and other essentials to be delivered to our doorstep. Having groceries delivered is hardly news—many of us did this for years before we’d even heard of Coronavirus. What’s new is how many people are now doing it at once, the amount of goods that need to be delivered to hospitals, clinics, and care homes, and how many new demographic groups are taking advantage of online shopping. People who would normally prefer to go to their local store, including the grandmas and grandpas of this world, are now ordering food and other essentials online.

The increased pressure on logistics and e-commerce companies across the board means that companies like Amazon and Walmart are ramping up hiring to onboard hundreds of thousands of people to cater to unprecedented demands. With the streets otherwise looking eerily empty, more and more vans are rolled out to deliver food and supplies to households, hospitals, and clinics across the western world.

 Many of the problems that delivery drivers normally face—like traffic congestion, unpredictable cyclists, and the inability to find parking spots—are removed with the rest of the world staying in. Instead, we now see a new set of problems arise, all related to maps and the ability to get from A to B as fast and conveniently as possible. Rural areas and dirt tracks that aren’t adequately mapped, hospital areas where the map lacks information about things like loading docks and car entrances, and care homes that haven’t even been mapped before. In other words, broken maps that slow down deliveries when more people than ever depend on deliveries in order to function in the time of unprecedented crisis.

The good news is that much of the mapping community is rallying to make things right and all of us, whether quarantined or not, can help. Improving the map includes making sure that every dirt track and every house and building is correctly marked out on OpenStreetMap, the Wikipedia of maps that power many of today’s routing services. It includes making hospital areas infinitely detailed on the map, mapping out everything from loading docks to car entrances to parking zones, like MapRoulette encouraging hospital mapping in Iran. And it includes marking out areas that might have been neglected in the past, like importing pharmacy details in Catalonia through the OpenStreetMap Tasking Manager.

Mapillary has made a name for itself by making it easier than ever to collect masses of map data for updating and improving the map. Thousands of people and companies across the world have uploaded more than a billion images filled with map data to Mapillary and thereby making it available to everyone. For the first time since the birth of Mapillary, now is not the time to go out and capture new imagery. It is, however, the time to make use of the imagery that’s already on Mapillary to improve the map.

 It’s easy to feel disempowered at a time like this. But together, we can all make a huge impact to the people and companies who are delivering the essentials to our doorstep and to the hospitals, clinics, and care homes that are at the forefront of the battle against COVID -19.

Also Read: Open-source program to assess and map COVID-19 hazard risk