Trinity Students, Faculty, and Staff Participate in Hurricane Relief Efforts for Puerto Rico

‘Mapathon’ at Multiple Universities Provides Data on How to Reach Those in Need

​Hartford, Connecticut, October 6, 2017 – Trinity College students, staff, and faculty contributed to hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico last week by taking part in a “mapathon” to provide aid groups with detailed information about impacted areas. Using the open-source mapping platform OpenStreetMap, volunteers working on computers at Trinity’s Raether Library and Information Technology Center on Friday, September 29, joined mapathons for Puerto Rico at Columbia University, Boston University, University of Miami, Rutgers University, and University of Nebraska Omaha, which each held simultaneous events on their campuses.

Trinity’s mapathon was organized by Christina Boyles, digital scholarship coordinator, and Jason B. Jones, director of educational technology. OpenStreetMap is a resource that some members of the American Red Cross and FEMA are using in Puerto Rico as a way to collect knowledge about areas affected by natural disaster. The mapping of neighborhoods and villages can be used to assist with aid efforts in rescue missions, the delivery of relief supplies, and in dealing with infrastructure issues. “There is a need for accurate information to create progress on the ground,” Jones added.

Boyles said that the efforts of the Trinity community and other volunteers were needed due to the significant structural damage created by the storm. Using satellite images, volunteers helped map out the locations of buildings and roads, which are important details to local aid groups who need to know how to reach certain areas and to determine the extent of damage. “Ninety percent of the map has been addressed, so our efforts today would help nearly complete or complete the mapping of the north-east region,” Boyles said at the start of the event.

Many people who took part in the mapathon had personal connections to Puerto Rico. Bonnie Solivan, academic technologist at Wesleyan University, said, “It’s my country, so anything I can do to help.”

Joelle E. Thomas, user engagement librarian at Trinity, said, “I am interested in helping out because I have several friends with their families in Puerto Rico, so it feels personal.”

To learn more about the mapathon, read the PBS NewsHour article, “Volunteers are helping Puerto Rico from home, with a map anyone can edit,” in which Jones is quoted.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18 and Andrew J. Concatelli