Open data helped save my life… but how?

First, I’d like to turn your attention to a wonderful and informative TED video from 2010 called The year open data went worldwide presented by Tim Berners-Lee. I embedded the video here:

Berners-Lee talks about the wonders of open data when it is accessible to all. It creates a new level of information transparency that allows users to use or create information in different ways. What I really like about this was the idea of community generated data, which was exemplified through the wiki-map program – OPEN STREET MAP. Information gathering programs like Open Street Map work towards using information as a way to help other people in real time. Berners-Lee uses the earthquake in Haiti in 2009 as an example of how the open data network gave access to users around the world to help re-map Port-au-Prince, locate information, and aid rescue and relief work.

Open Street Map and open data reminded me of a life-changing event. In March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake shocked the world – the Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake. During this time, I lived in Sendai, which was one of the affected cities affected by this triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and 80km from Fukushima’s Nuclear Powerplant meltdown).


This picture was taken a day after the earthquake in my neigbourhood.

This picture was taken a few days after the earthquake in my neigbourhood.

Often times people in the affected areas are left in the dark when a disaster strikes. It was difficult to navigate life through the chaos and destruction. This was particularly true when I experienced the largest earthquake I will (probably) ever witness in my life time. Thankfully someone was able to direct me to a relief information source, run through Google Maps, that pointed out all the disaster relief services in Sendai. This mapping service, similar to Open Street Map, is also run by volunteers and the community with the intent of supporting those with disaster relief by updating information.

CaptureOpen data, when used in ways to better the lives of others is beneficial not only for the local community, but also for the entire world. Because I was able to access important sources of information from the map above, I am here now, alive and well.

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