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New Mapping Resource to Help Humanitarian Organizations
USAgNet - 10/06/2017

In 2014, the United Nations estimated more than 78 million people in 22 countries required aid from humanitarian crises, the largest number since World War II. From natural disasters and epidemics, to those fleeing warfare and human trafficking, the UN expects the number of people in peril to rise to 128.6 million people in 33 countries in 2017.

Battling to help these people in need are humanitarian relief organizations across the globe, who need to work quickly in areas impacted by crisis. Illinois State University's John Kostelnick led a team to create new resources to help these organizations develop effective maps for crisis response.

"With all of the new technology currently available, it's much easier for organizations like the International Red Cross and Red Crescent to create maps quickly using geographic data collected by mobile phones or drones, for example," said Kostelnick, an associate professor of geography, "but not everyone is trained in cartography (the study of map making) or Geographic Information Systems, which can create challenges for presenting this information on maps most effectively."

Kostelnick and his team created the Humanitarian Symbology Scorecard, a free, online assessment tool which enables organizations to evaluate the maps they are creating. Based on a survey with 10 key questions, organizations can easily understand if their maps are conveying information that conforms to "best practices" in cartography. Questions cover everything from the use of symbols to how the map displays simple or complex information depending on the intended audience.

Each question includes an explanation of how to evaluate a map, examples of effective maps, and recommended websites or other resources to help organizations improve their maps when needed. "We hope the Humanitarian Symbology Scorecard can become a valuable resource for those involved with crisis mapping," said Kostelnick, who serves as director for GEOMAP, a University institute that specializes in Geographic Information Science (GIScience) research and technology. "Maps are vital during times of crisis for assisting in the transportation of relief supplies to helping people evacuate from impacted regions. There are a lot of unique challenges to mapping a crisis, and we hope that we can help crisis mappers to design maps that ultimately can help people in need."

Kostelnick developed the scorecard over the past several years, working with three ISU students, Megan Maher, Ashley Brehmer, and Brooke Schumacher. All three graduated, and Maher remains at Illinois State as the public outreach coordinator for the Department of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, and also as the assistant director for GEOMAP.

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