By Tom Armstrong
Edited for online by Tobi Loftus

A Brisbane company is using technology to assist with disaster relief following the Nepal earthquake last week.

open street map
Screenshot of the Open Street Map system created by Net-Engine. Source: Supplied

Brisbane software developers Net-Engine are helping members of the public assist those affected by the earthquake, by creating a tool that allows anyone to have a go mapping earthquake-stricken Nepal.

The software allows people to trace satellite imagery, information which is then able to be immediately used by humanitarian crisis response teams.

Net-Engine managing director Bruce Stronge says the software is especially important in areas such as Nepal.

“Typically in most developing worlds that’s where you have unmapped areas – so what the crowd mapping is doing is essentially filling in the blank spaces on the map in real time,” Mr Stronge said.

“(This allows) response teams to essentially see on their GPS’ how to get to people in need.

“Crisis mapping has been a really good platform to allow less technical people to be able to contribute.”

Mr Stronge says the relationship between digital tools, the community and aid will continue to grow.

“People want to help, people want to contribute, we just need to find platforms to allow them to do that,” he said.

Net-Engine is not alone. It is part of a global trend towards digital humanitarianism that kicked off in the wake the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where people turned to social media.

University of Technology Sydney Fellow and IT consultant Rob Livingstone says social media has become an accepted tool in disaster relief.

“Provided that there is access to digital communications, social media has provided a very, very effective way of communicating status updates where assistance needs to be provided,” Mr Livingstone said.

“Taking a photo of a disaster scene and sending that via social media immediately would carry with it the geo-spacial date and time and when and where that image was taken, can provide invaluable assistance in terms of natural disasters.”

New information sources, such as crowd mapping, are being embraced by organisations such as the United Nations, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders.

International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies coordinator of innovation Drew Strobel says mapping technology is important.

“Certainly the open maps and crowd sourcing of maps has really come into a force of its own and its really proved its utility,” Mr Strobel said.

He says the technology is already being implemented in Nepal.

“Last week we had over 100 hundred volunteers… (providing) situational maps on the damages, where partners are working, where other organisations are working and where the damage is greatest,” he said.

For more information on how you can help, either via crowd-mapping or financial support, visit Net-Engine’s website, or the Red Cross.