Crisis Mapping

Problem Statement

Around the world, first responders rely on accurate maps to allow them to provide timely assistance to victims of disasters. But in many parts of the world, reliable maps do not exist.

Project Summary

Using the power of crowdsourcing, OpenStreetMaps (OSM) allows up-to-date satellite imagery to be used to generate accurate maps. The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) organizes projects for updating the OSM database in anticipation of or in response to regional crises. Code for Burlington (Code4BTV) provides support for HOT projects by scheduling Crisis Mapping Events, and otherwise encouraging local citizens to engage in this humanitarian activity.

Each does a little, and together we all do a lot.

Currently, Code4BTV announces its Crisis Mapping Events on its MeetUp. However, no one should feel like they have to wait for an event to begin mapping! We have provided the basic steps needed to get started below (or scroll even further down for more detailed instructions).

1) Create an Open Street Map account
Simply visit and register as a new user if you haven't done so already.

2) Pick a task from the Humanitarian Mapping Task Manager
Go to and search for a project to begin mapping.  There are always dozens of projects available to choose from.

3) Start mapping!
The most basic mapping is putting buildings and roads on the map.  This is the most vital information for relief organizations, and the foundation of most mapping information. Just scroll down the project page and click the orange "MAP" button.  You can select a specific region, or you can let the site assign you a random region.  And you're off!

If you would like your contributions to be credited to Code for BTV, add the #code4btv hashtag in the Comments section when you save your work.


Crisis Mapping Detailed Instructions

Step 1: Computer

Set yourself up with a computer that can access the Internet, and open your browser. These tools do not work as well in Chrome, so you might want to use Safari or Firefox.


Step 2: OSM account -

Create an account with Open Street Map, or log into your existing account. If you are creating a new account, make sure you receive your confirmation email and read the welcome page.


Step 2A: Tutorial

If you are creating a new account, click on the "Start Mapping" button. This will take you to a tutorial, where you can learn how to use the ID editor. This is the most common way people enter the information used to create maps. You can skip the tutorial if you wish, but most people find it helpful. You will probably want to set aside 20-30 minutes to complete it.


Select project by description

Step 3: Select an HOT project -

In another tab in your browser, navigate to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team's website. The two websites will synchronize.

Click on [Start Mapping] and select an HOT project.

You can select a project using the Grid View, where descriptions of projects are displayed. Generally those with the most urgent needs are displayed first.

You can select a project using the Map View, where projects are displayed as numbered circles on a map of the world. The bigger the circle, the bigger the size of the project. You can use this to view projects in a particular area of interest.

You can select a project by searching on a keyword, location, or project number.

If you are attending a Code for BTV Crisis Mapping Event, your host will show you how to access the project specific to that event.


Step 4: Read the Instructions

The project Instructions will list of the type(s) of mapping to be done. You will almost always be asked to map the buildings. As you get more experienced you might start designating specific building types or entering their features, although some of that information is not available to you here.

The major roads will likely already have been mapped, but there may be secondary access roads that should be mapped. In very rural areas, it is important to map all the roads and footpaths.

If you are attending a Code for BTV Meetup, the leader may have additional instructions.


Step 5: Select a task

Next to the "Instructions" tab, click on the "Map" tab. You can use your mouse wheel or the "+" and "-" buttons on the map to zoom in and out, and you can click and drag to scroll the map.

Each square is referred to as a “task”, and is assigned a number. Select a square that has not been colored in by pointing and clicking with the mouse.

It’s possible that the task you have selected is not available for editing. Click on uncolored squares until you see the message “This task is available for mapping.” Click on the “Start Mapping” button.

NOTE: A history of the work done by HOT members will be displayed when a task is selected. You can look for tasks you and others have worked on previously, and track your/their progress this way.


Step 6: Select an editor

Select the ID editor, which is the default, then click on the “Start Editor” button. The OpenStreetMap Editor will open in a new tab.

HINT: Keep the HOT tab open, as you will want to use it later.

Help and Tutorials:

If you have not yet viewed it, you will be given the option to watch a tutorial on how to use the editor. You can replay the walkthrough anytime or view more documentation by clicking the Help button or pressing the 'H' key. You can view a list of commands along with their keyboard shortcuts by pressing the '?' key.

There is also a tutorial recommended by HOT, at


Step 7: Map the task

Use the drawing tools to mark the items (buildings, roads, and other structures) as described in the Instructions.

Step 8: Save your work

As you complete each item, the number of items updated since the last Save will appear in a tab next to the Save button. It’s inefficient to Save after every change, but don’t go too long without saving. It’s frustrating to have to redo half an hour’s work!

When you click on Save, a sidebar will be displayed. The Changeset Comments and Suggested Hashtags fields will be prefilled.

You can make additional comments here if you think it is helpful. You will also be given an opportunity to add comments when you stop working on the task.

If you would like your contributions to be credited to Code for BTV, add the #code4btv hashtag.