Volunteering GIS and Google Earth Content for Humanitarian Relief in Myanmar

Scott Madry, a professor at the University of North Carolina, best known in the Google Earth (GE) world for his moniker as the Armchair Archeologist, actually has skills in many disciplines. I first met him years ago when he was lecturing on space sciences at the International Space University. He’s also worked with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) for many years. Recently he was contacted to help with projects in Myanmar to help humanitarian relief efforts understand the situation in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis. Scott sent me an E-mail last week which does a great job of describing how Google Earth is really helping in disaster situations like this:

I am working with a group called the GISCorps, which is a volunteer group of GIS professionals who volunteer their time for humanitarian relief activities:
I got a call to ask if I could help with doing image analysis and GIS for the Myanmar, and I have been working for the past week in using Google Earth to digitize areas of the country. What is very interesting about this effort is that it is entirely voluntary and uses GE. We have a wiki with the interpretation instructions. People around North America and Europe are involved, and we are all using GE to do the image analysis and GIS work. When we finish one area it is sent to another person for QA and then is further analyzed for damage assessment. The final results are converted to ArcGIS and are sent to the UN for creation of detailed maps that are made available by the internet to relief organizations.
I think it is fascinating that GE is largely making this effort possible. We have 20 people working now, identifying features such as structures, roads, airports, and places that can be used as assembly and relief sites (mostly Buddhist monasteries) on pre-cyclone imagery. Another person does the same using post storm imagery and the two are combined with the results mapped. We can do this around the world quickly and get results in to the UN in days. By using GE we don’t have any issues with data formats, proprietary software, etc. We each use our own computers and KML files sent to us with the areas we are to analyze. We submit our KML files as soon as we can and are given another place to work on. It really harnesses the potential power of the GE community.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. Thanks for this. Very good to know things are moving forward.

  2. Is it possible to view the disaster assesment information overlayed onto a satellite or road map window on a web site using Google Maps, so its interactive on the Internet for all to view just with some browser, regardless of Google Earth or ArcGIS software?
    In such a case people could potentially walk around with iPhone-type WIFI enabled devices in the field, and view and ideally upload more disaster assement updates to the site in real time.
    I looked at the UN link and saw that the disaster assememt maps were .pdf downloads….rather than something that can be over the internet browsers. Perhaps I did not look close enough and there are more ways the info is distributed?

  3. T.S.Sivam says:

    Your site is very good for idea creater!
    But I have a problem using Google Earth. I need to use Google Earth through ArcGIS 9.2. If you have any Idea about this?

  4. hello sir,
    pls help me.
    sir i want to digitize some countries in google earth through kml.
    Please help me.

  5. hello,
    I live in Mandalay, Myanmar and I have learned we live very near to Sagaing fault. What kind of prepareness need on GE and GIS to relife this kind of diaster happen?

Leave a Reply