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Berkshire Woman Offers Training For Humanitarian Mapping

Theresa Clary

The White House has declared the Ebola epidemic in West Africa a global security threat and is directing people, money and resources to stop the spread of the virus. Meanwhile, an area woman hopes to enlist others to aid in the response efforts.“We can be part of this,” Theresa Clary said. “We can think that we’re not only helping others, but in fact we’re helping control the disease hopefully.”

Clary believes a few clicks of the mouse and strokes of a keyboard present a way for people around the world to help those directly fighting the deadly disease. The Pittsfield, Massachusetts native is hosting workshops to show others how to use computer software readily available online known as open source mapping.

“Mapping has come a long way,” Clary said. “This software is like Wikipedia and everyone contributes to mapping.”

Specifically using the Humanitarian OpenStreet Map website, a satellite image is provided by the company Bing.

“Suddenly you are seeing the camouflage and the canopy of the trees,” Clary said. “You are studying it and you can start to see the path.”

By going to the website, a person can work on tasks laid out by groups such as the World Health Organization, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. It’s explained that help is needed to identify and mark paths, roads and even villages on the maps, which aid workers on the ground can then use. Clary says after looking at already mapped areas and developing an eye for the map, you can tell what constitutes a passageway.

“Lines in the camouflage that look like an actual path,” Clary said. “In some regards if it’s a more major road it’s going to wider, brown and you get a sense that it’s clearly a dirt road.”

Using icons that indicate roads wide enough for a vehicle, walking paths and buildings, Clary explains how easy it is to charter a path.

“So what I’m going to do is with my cursor…click, click, click up the path as far as its clear to me,” Clary explained. “It’s actually as quick as that.”

From there, the work is verified by experienced mappers, making it available to anyone. The Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team or HOT was created in 2009 and used in earthquake relief efforts in Haiti in 2010. A non-profit based in the United Kingdom known simply as OpenStreetMap and the U.S. State’s Department own Imagery to the Crowd offer similar resources.

Clary holds a master’s degree in geography and founded the research and development company Workforce Strategies. Still, she says anyone with an internet connection and a working knowledge of computers can do this.

“I don’t have a lot of time to do hands-on volunteering, but I could see that anyone in their home could do this,” Clary said. “When I started mapping and I realized how much is needed to map these parts of Africa to help the first responders it occurred to me that the best I could contribute was to create a workshop and show other people.”

The first workshop was scheduled for Wednesday at 7 at Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY. Another one was slated for September 18 at St. Mark’s Church in Pittsfield, Mass. Clary hopes to offer more workshops as well.

“If you plot one path, then you’ve made a contribution,” said Clary.

Click here for more information on Clary's workshops.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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