Emergency cartography


Methods / principles / tricks / lessons

They always needed the map yesterday

On the ground mapping: uncomfortable, pragmatic, unpredictable, often ugly

Mostly remote support

Core technology

Static mapping

  • QGIS: general cartography
  • ArcGIS: labeling
  • Command line tools (GDAL, ogr2ogr, etc.): geoprocessing
  • Adobe Illustrator (AI): core cartography

Interactive mapping

  • Leaflet.js
  • Tilemill
  • D3.js
  • Mapbox Studio?

OpenStreetMap (OSM)

The competition

Red cross colors

  • White
  • Light grey
  • Black
  • Bright, saturated red


Cartographic and design principles

Thematic content and design

  • Desaturated background colors
  • Highly saturated symbols and thematic layers
  • Semi-transparent callout boxes
  • Light drop shadows
  • Occasional sidebars of information
  • Overall: clean, simple elements

Printing considerations

Interactive mapping = A little messier

Reference maps

OSM - currently made by hand

All rules are made to be broken, especially in disaster response

Highest value maps

Reference maps

Mashups of multiple thematic layers

Basic analysis

Organization and workflows

The team

  • GIS lead and developer
  • 2 analysts / cartographers / junior developers
  • Intern(s)
  • Awesome volunteers

Our partners

Exploiting the time difference

Volunteer tracing


Skype chats, Github commits, email

Making maps "internable"

AI templates @ consistent scale

Layer management

"On the job" CartoCSS training for all comers

Evolutionary templating

Deploying: getting maps on the plane

10:30 AM
"We're sending someone to the northern Congo at 5:30 PM. Think you can get them 20 maps of the area?"


The scramble

Large format reference maps - OSM or outside sources

"Map packs" on USB

OSM onto Garmin

Tablets with OSMAnd + country maps

Experimental: Offline interactive maps for dummies

20 minute briefing

Go go go go

Remote support and coping with connectivity


Getting from this

to this





Export as PDF, then export as PNG

Half the file size, all the fun

Transferring files

"Please stop killing the dropbox"



The map dashboard
betraying our principles

Looking forward

Integrating Mapbox Studio

Pushing OSM difs to offline interactive maps

Volunteer roster

OSM + ODK - linking assessment data to response data


Let's go drink