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
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.

landing page for OpenStreetMap, map of the world
Welcome to OpenStreetMap!

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 and respond to the confirmation email and read the welcome page.

screenshot of account creation form, login details
Enter account details

screenshot of account creation form, user agreement
Read the Contributor Terms (user agreement)

screenshot of success page
Check your inbox for a confirmation email

screenshot of confirmation email
Confirm your request to create an account

screenshot of welcome page
Welcome to your new OpenStreetMap account!

Step 2A: Tutorial - Learn OpenStreetMap Step by Step

If you are unfamiliar with OpenStreetMap, this helpful tutorial can teach you how to navigate the OSM site and use the ID editor. You will probably want to set aside 20-30 minutes to complete it.

screenshot of home page of Learn O S M
Get a helpful introduction to OpenStreetMap

There is also a tutorial recommended by HOT, at, which includes videos and written instructions.

Step 3: Getting started with HOT -

In a new tab in your browser, navigate to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team's website. Click on the Start Mapping button.

screenshot of landing page for H O T tasks
Welcome to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team's website!

Step 4: Selecting an HOT project -

screenshot of menu for viewing and selecting projects
Many ways to select a project

screenshot of menu field for selecting project difficulty
Helpful to select Beginner your first time

Step 4a: Grid view

Descriptions of projects are displayed. Generally those with the most urgent needs are displayed first.

screenshot of a project description
Project description

Step 4b: Map view

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.

world map showing projects
Map of projects

Step 4c: Search

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

world map displaying search results
Results of a search

Step 4d: Workshop

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 5: Read the Instructions

Once you have selected a project, scroll down to find the project Instructions. Here will be listed 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.

project instructions
Project Instructions

Step 6: Select a task

To the right of the instructions there will be a map of the area to be processed. It will be divided up into squares, each of which is called a "task". Near the bottom of the map will be a legend, explaining the meaning of each color. 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.

If you click on any of the colored squares, you will see the work history for that task. You can look for tasks you and others have worked on previously, and track your/their progress this way.

Clicking on a task that is marked "Ready" (no color) will allow you to use the editor to map its features, per the instructions. 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,” then click on the “Start Mapping” button.

project map
Project map

The first time you select a task, you may be asked to allow HOT to "login" to your OSM account.

screenshot of login request
Please login to OSM first

When you click on the link, a new tab will open and you will see a request to allow your work on the HOT website to be linked to your OSM account.

screenshot of access authorization request
Authorize HOT website to access your OSM account

Step 7: Map a task

Once you have selected a task that is available for mapping, click on the Start Mapping button.

screenshot of start mapping button
Start Mapping

This task will remain locked by you for 2 hours, or until you finish it or release it. This allows for short interruptions, but also allows others to continue work if you lose your connection or forget to release it.

Select the ID Editor, and click on the Start Editor button. In a new tab, the ID editor will be displayed, ready to edit the HOT task you selected. Keep the HOT task selection tab open, as you will want to use it later.

screenshot of start editor button
Start Editor

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

screenshot of ID editor
Edit the HOT task with the ID Editor

You may find that some of the features have already been mapped. This can happen if the project includes a portion of OSM that has not been updated recently. It can also happen if another volunteer indicated a task was completely mapped, but on review it was discovered that there were additional features that needed to be mapped.

If you are having trouble identifying a feature on the map, it may be helpful to look at other images of the same location. On the right side of the screen is a menu of icons. Click on the "Layers" icon to reveal a side menu that will allow you to select other datasets.

screenshot of menu of icons used to select side menu
Select the Layers side menu

screenshot of Layers side menu used to select dataset for image
Select a dataset

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!

screenshot of Save button
Save your work periodically

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. If you are not sure your edits are accurate, you can request they be reviewed by an OSM volunteer. (All HOT tasks are reviewed by HOT volunteers, as well.) When you are done, click on Upload. If you would like your contributions to be credited to Code for BTV, add the #code4btv hashtag.

screenshot of save menu
Upload your edits to OSM

You will still have the opportunity to make changes (additions, updates, deletions) to your edits as you continue your work. These changes will be uploaded to OSM when you make additional Saves. You will also be given an opportunity to make comments when you release the HOT task. These comments will be read by the HOT volunteer(s) who review your work.


Step 8: Release the HOT task

When you select an HOT task, the task is reserved for you for 2 hours. In the event that your connection to the site is lost or you have to leave unexpectedly without releasing the task to other volunteers, all the edits you saved/uploaded to OSM will be associated with that task, but the reservation will expire.

When you are ready to release the task you are working on, return to the tab in your browser where you selected the task. Choose the option that best describes why you are releasing the task. Leave a comment if you feel it would be helpful to HOT volunteers.

screenshot of menu to end edit of and to release H O T task
Release the HOT task

Option 1: Split task

If the task has so many features to be mapped that the work cannot be completed in 2 hours, and it should be split into multiple tasks, select this option.

Option 2: Mark as bad imagery

If the imagery is blurred, dark, or does not have sufficient contrast to permit features to be mapped, select this option.

Option 3: Stop Mapping

If you are ending your edit session, but there are still features to be mapped, select this option. The task will then be made available to other volunteers to make additional edits.

Option 4: Mark as completely mapped

If all the requested features are mapped, select this option. The task will be marked as Mapped, and made available to HOT volunteers to validate the updates.


Step 9: Review the results - OSM Changeset Tool

It is possible to view aggregate results of work by an individual or a group using a tool that selects updates by the text and hashtags entered into the comment section of uploads. If you chose to identify your work as being part of a Code for BTV Crisis Mapping Event, use the above link and search for "#code4btv". Results will only be displayed after the uploads have been validated.


Volunteer humanitarian mappers are making a real difference on the ground in the areas we map. We can not thank you enough for your help and contributions.
~Blake, volunteer mapper and member of the OSM Training Working Group