Category Archives: GeoWeb

Crowdsourcing the Disaster Management Cycle

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and recent record flooding in Bangladesh, I was reminded of the foundational role of mobile communications technology in the response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. A pivotal moment in the development of the Geoweb, the response to Hurricane Katrina (or lack thereof) is widely considered to be the first example of the use of mobile phones to communicate crisis information. Using mobile technology during a crisis can support first responders to identify the location of affected individuals as well as to give emergency response managers more up-to-date information as a crisis unfolds. A recent publication from UW graduate Sara Harrison picks up on this thread, examining the disaster management cycle and presenting results from US and Canadian emergency managers as to their adoption of crowdsourcing tools and social media. Constraints and challenges to adoption of crowdsourcing are presented, with specific recommendations for government at all levels. The integration of crowdsourcing into emergency management systems can provide a conduit for two-way exchange of information, in real time, between citizens in need and emergency response professionals. In the decade + since Katrina, the development of this area of application of crowdsourcing has begun to show real benefits, but as Sara Harrison’s paper shows, there are still real development and deployment challenges to be overcome.

Read the full paper here, available open access:

hurricane irma
Hurricane Irma




Capturing Balloon Airphotos with Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) Geotech Magnet Program

We are fortunate here in Waterloo Region to have access to a unique high school-level program focused on geospatial technologies. The Waterloo Region District School Board offers a Geotechnology magnet program at Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) high school. This program attracts students from all over the region, who come to WCI to participate in advanced instruction in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and geospatial analysis. Students from this program learn in a dedicated computer lab, equipped with industry leading ArcGIS software from Esri. This is an exceptional program, providing a real educational advantage to students at the high school level who are interested in geospatial technologies.

As part of our high school outreach program in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management, I went and worked with the current WCI Geotech class to setup data collection using a digital camera attached to a helium weather balloon provided by the Public Lab, a non-profit organization supporting hardware development for data collection.

Preparing the balloon rigging for launch. Photo courtesy of Mark Menhennet, WCI.

After an introduction session in the classroom, we took the balloon and camera out to the WCI field for a morning flight. Students handled the balloon while it took images of the playing fields and nearby developments along Columbia Street.

Camera crash guard rig. Photo courtesy of Mark Menhennet, WCI. 
Hazel and Columbia area of Waterloo


The balloon reached a max height of approximately 600 feet before the students hauled it back in.

Hauling in the balloon.

In their afternoon class, students used the open source web platform MapKnitter, to stretch and align the various photos from the balloon to create a composite image.

Composite image made with MapKnitter


This hands-on experience for students showed how easy it can be to collect and assemble your own amateur airphotos. Typically we think of this type of data collection as something that only professional geospatial companies or governments can do. However, with the right type of tools, this custom data collection and mapping is open to nearly anyone with an interest. Experiencing first-hand this type of data collection can show high school students just one of the many applications of geospatial technology, and the potential of a career in geospatial technology. Given the success of this first collaboration with the WCI Geotech Magnet Program, I’m looking forward to working together to expand this student experience in the future!

Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository

I recently had the pleasure of working on a new project called “Volunteered Drone Imagery: Challenges and constraints to the development of an open shared image repository”, with Dr. Britta Ricker, University of Washington-Tacoma, and Sara Harrison, a recently-graduated MES student from Waterloo.

OpenAerialMap Data Browsing Interface

We were inspired by the overall concept of OpenStreetMap, a user-generated map of the world, and wanted to think about how the same concept – volunteered geographic information, could be applied to the explosion of imagery data now being made available through the use of recreational drones. There is an emerging ecosystem of technologies and systems to support not only the creation of micro-level imagery, but to overcome the daunting task of sharing this information. We looked to the OpenAerialMap project as an example of this. Drawing on technology adoption constraints literature, we consider the main challenges to creating this open shared image repository (emphasis on open here – there are a number of private-sector options that do not allow imagery to be shared or re-purposed).

Together, we wrote a peer-reviewed paper that was accepted at the long-running and highly-competitive Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS-50) for 2017. Dr. Ricker was happy to present this on our behalf, and this paper will serve as a jumping off point for further research into how volunteered imagery sources can be both contributed and shared more easily. This paper is available open access through the University of Hawaii at Manoa repository.

New Publication: Evolving Relationships in Community Participatory Geoweb Projects

At long last, a team publication from the GEOIDE grant The Participatory Geoweb has been published in ACME journal. This paper, co-authored by myself, Jon Corbett, Chris Gore, Pamela Robinson, Renee Sieber, and Patrick Allen, takes a critical view of the general enthusiasm for Geoweb projects. We challenge the commonly held notions that the Geoweb is ‘easy’, and highlight several implementation challenges derived from a variety of case studies. For those working with the Geoweb, crowdsourcing, and VGI, I would recommend this as a good overview of the challenges of both developing these types of tools and implementing them within a community context. It’s open-access, so please check it out!


Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge 2015

This is a guest post by graduate student Qing (Lucy) Liu about her team’s experience at the ESRI Canada App Challenge:

Esri Canada Centres of Excellence (ECCE) App Challenge By Qing (Lucy) Lu

The ECCE App Challenge is a coding completion held by Esri Canada. Started in February 27, 2015, teams of participants were given one week to develop an innovative app using open data and Esri software. The apps to be developed should be on some aspect of government services in Canada, for any of the following themes:

  • Housing
  • Health (human and/or animal/environmental)
  • Parks and recreation
  • Education, including daycare
  • Public/private transport, including infrastructure
  • Garbage collection/snow/branch removal
  • Emergency management
  • Information services (online information access and use
  • Utilities

Chen Chen and I teamed up with Jingwen Huang (a MSc student working with Dr. Su-Yin Tan) and participated in this competition. We named our team as WATERMELON for two reasons. Firstly, with symmetrically distributed stripes that can be seen as longitudes, watermelon is a fruit that look most similar to an earth. Secondly, we are following two leading cell phone companies that also choose a fruit as their names, which are Apple and Blackberry.

Chen, Jingwen, and Qing

Inspired by the theme of World Health Day 2015, “Food Safety: from far to plate, make food safe”, we decided to focus on food safety field. Region of Waterloo happened to provide Food Premise Inspections dataset, we decided to develop a WebGIS application that can be used to help consumers choose right restaurants.

The data used was obtained from Open Data Catalogue held by Region of Waterloo. It represents food safety inspections and re-inspections for geographically fixed food premises. Web AppBuilder was used to build our web application.

The map is composed of two layers; one represents a heatmap of critical infractions and the other contains points of food facilities. The heatmap is presented from red to grey based on the number of critical infractions inspected, and food facilities with the most number of critical infractions are shown in red while those with the least number are represented in grey. The two layers are displayed on the basemap of Streets by default, and the users can select their preferred basemaps. Information of a particular food facility can be displayed once a food facility point is selected, including facility name, address, telephone, number of critical infractions and number of uncritical infractions. In addition, queries are enabled for users to extract detailed infraction information including inspection date, whether a particular infraction is critical and a brief description of the infraction. Users can make the queries by specifying the facility name or a range of dates, and inspection information of facilities with the names specified or inspections carried out between the dates selected will be returned to the users. Further, users can select facilities on the attribute table, and the selected points will be highlighted on the map. On the side of the web page, general information of food safety is displayed, from which users can find instructions on how to report food illness, information of food safety training courses as well as contact information of Public Health.

In addition to developing the web application, we also created a pitch video that describes the usage and characteristics of the application. All the comic pictures were hand-painted by Chen Chen.

Participating in this competition is a great experience for all of us. We have explored government open data, new products and resources offered by Esri. Especially, WebApp Builder is very useful to build GIS applications that can run across any device. Ready-to-use widgets and some app templates save time and efforts for GIS people who are not necessarily skilled at writing codes, and enable developers to focus more on spatial analysis. ArcGIS online is a great tool for creating maps that can be viewed in a browser, desktop or mobile device. Compared to Desktop ArcGIS, it is intuitive and very easy for people without GIS background to create customized maps. One of the limitations of ArcGIS online is that it is not fully free to users. Users are required to buy ArcGIS online annual subscription once their 60-day trial ends. In addition, attribute names cannot be edited via ArcGIS online. This could be a problem as cause some confusions would be caused to end users of the maps if attribute names are not straightforward. Take our case as an example, the attributes of selected points are shown to users. As the data contain redundant attributes, and some attribute names are not straightforward, some useless information is provided, but there is no way to select attributes to show and change the display names of attributes.

Chen drawing graphics for the pitch video

In addition to experimenting with the products and tools, we gained experience in developing a complete web application product as we were also required to provide mission statement, characteristics statement, readme file and pitch video. These files are also very important as they are used for introducing and promoting our product to customers. Traditional GIS courses provide limited opportunities to experiment with new products related to spatial analysis, and they usually focus on very classic GIS concepts and GIS problems. Due to the rapidly advancing information technologies and fierce competitions between service providers, it is likely that students will find what they learn in school is out of date and of little use once they enter the workforce. In recent years, location data has been put enormous attention to, and GIS problems as well as data have entered into new stage. For example, open data provided by government and user-generated data are two new types of data, which are still at the early stage of research. I would recommend that the courses offered by institutions of higher education adapt the learning materials so that students are able to solve problems of the time.

Fulcrum – using mobile devices to collect field data

As part of Geography 187: Problem Solving in Geomatics, I’ve started using Fulcrum as a tool for students to gain experience collecting in-situ field data. Fulcrum is both a mobile app (for iOS and Android) and a data management/survey design backend. Fulcrum lets you develop a ‘survey’ (or form to fill out) that can accept all types of data, pictures, comments, custom tailored to your application.

fulcruminterfaceIn the case of GEOG 187, students were conducting a basic tree health survey of trees on campus, with help from the Ecology Lab. This dataset provided the basis for the semester project on identifying areas on campus where building development could take place with minimal disruption to existing mature and healthy trees.

Overall, Fulcrum was quite easy to set up, with pre-made templates to help me get started. In the field, students used the app to record information on trees, and to take pictures. Data collection is limited to point data, but of course, when data is collected on the potentially tree picsmall screen of a smartphone, it could be challenging to create more complex geometries like polygons and lines. This data is automatically geotagged and available for export from the Fulcrum interface. I’ve taken the tree data and put it into a small CartoDB map. Fulcrum provided a very easy to deploy and easy to use solution for this class, and also helped students to learn more about primary data collection. Thanks Fulcrum!

ParCA Team Travels to Nova Scotia

By Andrea Minano, MSc Student, University of Waterloo

From June 4th to June 18th, 2014, a team from the Partnership for Canada-Caribbean Community Climate Change Adaptation (ParCA) travelled to Shelburne County and the Region of Queens Municipality in Nova Scotia. The team was primarily composed of 4 Master’s candidates from the University of Waterloo: Shandel Brown, Saveena Patara, Maliha Majeed and Andrea Minano. Other associates from ParCA were able to attend for parts of the trip, including Dr. Carolyn Brown (University of Prince Edward Island) and Dr. Ahmed Khan (St. Mary’s University).

Each member of the ParCA team had a series of goals to accomplish during this trip. Saveena and Shandel focused on delivering the results of their research based on in-person interviews to community members and stakeholders in the study site. Their secondary role was to share their experiences and contacts with Maliha and Andrea, who are responsible for conducting follow-up research in Shelburne and Queens. These stakeholders and community members varied widely from institutions, roles, responsibilities, and fields of expertise. Some examples of these contacts included Mike MacLeod (Planner from Liverpool), Dayle Eshelby (Lockeport Councillor), Jen Graham (Coastal Coordinator for Ecology Action Centre), and tourism and fisheries stakeholders across the region. Through these meetings, it was possible to gain a more thorough understanding of the current challenges and uncertainties the communities are currently facing in relation to climate change, aging populations, and economic limitations.

Meeting with Stakeholders in Lockeport, Nova Scotia
Meeting with Stakeholders in Lockeport, Nova Scotia

Andrea and Maliha were able to scope the study site and become more aware of the relevance, importance and need of climate change research in the South Shore. Andrea was also able to test a web-mapping pilot survey for understanding the technological gaps with South Shore participants and gaining an insight to the environmental vulnerabilities across a wide geographic region. Participants were able to complete the survey without help from researchers while contributing information regarding flood and erosion-prone areas in the South Shore. Some of this information offered a greater insight to the environmental challenges in the community and an opportunity for the researcher to visit the indicated sites and take geo-tagged photos. The information gathered through the pilot study is highly valuable as these details will now be taken into account in the future directions of research.

In the final week of the trip, the team left the South Shore to present at the Coastal Zones Canada conference. The presenters and the presentations of the conference offered an insight to research initiatives in coastal environments, many of which were related to climate change in Nova Scotia. Several ParCA members from the University of Prince Edward Island, St. Mary’s University, University of Waterloo and the University of the West Indies made an appearance and discussed a wide variety of topics from the role of governance in climate change adaptation to climate change vulnerability assessments using Geographic Information Systems. The significance of these studies and research initiatives was highlighted by a panel discussion which offered an insight to the importance of sharing research results with communities who were engaged in studies. This, for many of the panelists, was seen as a vital change in research and as a necessary practice in the future.