The Philippines get hit with 20 tropical storms every year, on average. Some of them are severe enough to require people to evacuate their homes and head to crisis centres.
But since it’s a rapidly developing area, evacuation centres often don’t show up on Google Maps, making it harder for people to find the best or closest safe locations.
That’s where people like Wayne Manuel come in. Manuel is a volunteer “Map Maker,” meaning that he’s spent the last six years using Google’s online tools to add to and update the country’s digital maps.
Manuel and other volunteers have been crucial in making sure that places used during a crisis — like health centres, government offices, and schools — are clearly and correctly marked on Google Maps.
Then, when disaster strikes, it’s easier for people to find relocation sites, and for aid organisations like the Red Cross to plan rescue and relief efforts.
Disaster relief maps like this one below — showing evacuation centres, hospitals and health facilities, police stations, and more — are possible because of Map Maker’s efforts:
“Being a map maker was initially a way for me to connect with my country,” Manuel told Business Insider.
Manuel volunteers his time by organising and participating in mapping parties called “MapUps,” where groups of people learn how to use Google’s tools and figure out which landmarks, roads, or businesses aren’t showing up on Google Maps so they can add them.
Manuel has been part of upwards of 25 “MapUps” — not only focused on disaster relief, but also to label local businesses for tourism purposes and to help indigenous people put their communities on the map.
Since Manuel is a half-indigenous Filipino, a MapUp he created with his mother’s tribe was particularly memorable to him.
When a community isn’t well mapped online, it leads to to subtle but very real issues. For example, if people there need something delivered, the fees will be higher to accomodate the difficulty of finding exact addresses.
Manuel spent several hours teaching the tribe how to use Google’s tools and helping them make add things to the map of their area. Despite really spotty internet connections, Manuel says the community members have continued their mapping efforts even after the MapUp get-together.
“I know how difficult it is to continue that mapping,” he says, “And I appreciated that they knew this would really have an impact on their own lives.”