Haiti: OSM and Sat Imagery for Free iPhone App

haiti iphone app

Update: The iPhone app referenced in this article has since been released on the App Store.

Crisis Mappers from around the world have been working around the clock to create maps and other tools for relief workers in Haiti. The earthquake caused tremendous damage to the road network and updated maps are necessary to enable food and volunteers to traverse the island.

The volunteer-driven Open Street Map project has become a central data source for the Crisis Mappers. It is regarded by many as the most up-to-date map of the area. It combines UN damage assessment, digitized imagery, Public Domain Topos and other base data. In the wake of the tragedy Google quickly released Haiti data gathered from its MapMaker program. DigitalGlobe has made its satellite imagery of Haiti freely available as well (as did GeoEye).

Soon, there will also be a free iPhone app with maps of Haiti coming
to the App Store. Jeffrey Johnson worked with a small company,
TrailBehind, Inc., to adapt the company’s existing
( offline mapping app, Gaia GPS,) to provide offline maps to relief workers.
It combines Digital Globe (.5m resolution), GeoEye (.5m resolution updated on 1/13), and OpenStreetMap (constantly being updated).

This version of Gaia GPS is intended to aid disaster relief for the Haitian earthquake. The app can be used to download maps and satellite imagery of the earthquake area, including up-to-date overlays of disaster sites, hospitals, and other relevant waypoints. The map data is provided by Digital Globe, GeoEye, OpenStreetMap, and the maps are hosted by the New York Public Library.

The app also provides other features that might be relevant to disaster relief efforts:

1) Recording of GPS tracks, waypoints, and geo-tagged photos

2) Import/export GPX tracks and photos

3) Guidance to waypoints and along tracks.

For more information about the app, please visit www.gaiagps.com This version of the app is identical to the commercial version, with the exception of the maps provided.

Fingers crossed that this app gets approved by Apple quickly.

Additionally you can see UAV flights from Haiti. These include new to the web imagery from P3 and GlobalHawk.

Jeffrey Johnson will be speaking about Crisis Mapping Haiti at Where 2.0 in March.

Edited for accuracy, clarity and great news about the iPhone app being released.

More images of the iPhone app



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  • Tim McNamara

    Thanks for this! There are some other crowd-sourced disaster response sites around:

  • Anna Hentzel

    HaitiGPS was just approved. It’ll show up in the app store shortly! Thanks for everyone’s support!

  • Josh Knauer

    These efforts are great, and it’s great to see hackers stepping up to the plate, but we have to make sure that the tools we are creating are not causing more problems than they fix. For example, many aid agencies have said that all of the different people finder apps that popped up after Katrina caused more fracturing of information and increased confusion. If you are one of the people that is desperately searching for a survivor using these people finder apps, the last thing you need is to have to go to 30 different sites to register your search.

    Random hacking attempts do not necessarily result in the data flowing to the people on the ground that need it. Coordinating with agencies that are on the ground is essential to understand their actual needs.

    From my work with both Oxfam and UN Peacekeeping, I can tell you that transferring all of the data scattered on different websites in a usable form on devices that will actually work on the ground in Haiti is a huge challenge. While an iPhone app is a trendy thing to release (and great PR for the people who built it), I really doubt there are many, if any, aid workers on the ground with them in Haiti.

    All of that said, I do have high hopes for projects like Open Street Maps and others that are helping to aggregate all of the scattered silos of data together. The reason they are useful is both because of the aggregation and that all the data they are collecting is available in a structured, consistent format. This allows companies like mine that are supporting agencies on the ground to incorporate it into our existing feeds.

    I’m sure everyone is trying to do the right thing, let’s just make sure we think things through a bit before creating a new app. Think through the consequences.

    Josh Knauer, CEO, Rhiza Labs
    Twitter: @jknauer

  • Andrew Zaborowski


    OpenStreetMap data is already being used on Garmin GPS navsats by the Colombian military rescue mission on Haiti and some other humanitarian groups there who are in contact with the OpenStreetMap community but whose identity I don’t know. Many of them have asked for an easier way to deploy / print / use the maps that a non-technical person could do because the GIS-knowledgeable workers on Haiti don’t have the bandwidth to install it on everyone’s device. This app is one of the things that fulfills this requirement.

    Other ready-to-use extracts from the OpenStreetMap data are available at http://labs.geofabrik.de/haiti/ including constantly updated printable maps and Garmin installation files. walking-papers.org also provides an easy way to print out the map.

  • Jeffrey Johnson


    I think your comments are well off the mark. We are already aware of people who could/would use this app on the ground. It meets many requirements that simply cannot be fulfilled by normal GPS (i.e. get fresh data without a computer, get data from feeds like ushahidi etc).

    If you think you have a better idea of how do distribute this kind of data on handheld devices, I’m all ears. The paper methods are being taken care of in other ways, which we are also supporting.

    Why don’t YOU think before YOU post and consider the consequences?


  • Josh Knauer


    Sorry to have ticked you off so much. I do work with aid organizations that are on the ground in Haiti (and elsewhere around the world). I’m not sure how you could really be upset about someone suggesting that you actually talk with aid organizations before building apps for them, as that is an obvious thing to do.

    Almost everyone that we’ve been working with to date in Haiti is using satellite-based devices, not cell phones. Further, even when wireless networks are restored, the conditions on the ground require more rugged devices than fragile smart phones. We’ve worked with others companies to provide open-source rugged devices for these types of deployments.

    It’s great that you’ve found a need for iPhone-based tools on the ground in Haiti.

    Andrew, I’m a huge fan of Open Street Map and said so in my original post.

    Josh Knauer, CEO, Rhiza Labs
    Twitter: @jknauer

  • Andrew Turner

    Good discussion of valid points all around. The people finder disparities has been an issue. However, having watched the communities of discussion they’re constantly discussing and integrating using open standards (PFIF in this case) which is addressing this concern.

    The data is being used in a myriad of ways. There are offline versions for GPS devices, GIS applications, and more tools, and also engaging developers and many responders that *do* have smart phones that will be deploying. They may not currently rely on all of these tools as part of their primary operations, but making it available is not detrimental.

    I’m truly excited to see the grassroots communities engaging with the larger response agencies and government organizations and also citizens in affected areas. It will only lead to better tools, response, and recovery.

  • Todd Huffman


    Your comments are relevant, though calling the app a PR stunt is out of line, it makes it harder to have a productive discourse downstream.

    An iPhone app can be useful, simply because so many people already have them. Haitians may not, but many of the relief workers will. The app will also likely increase in utility as time goes on and a wider range of workers come into the country from smaller organizations who do not have centralized support or are volunteers.

    I used my iPhone in Afghanistan last year, the application OffMaps can cache up to 150 MB of OSM data. The OSM map of Kabul is detailed and functional. Extremely useful to have it on-hand.

    Jeff consulted me prior to the app coming out, starting the conversation with “Jeffrey: gotta sec to do a sanity check on something with me?” And then we discussed the utility of the app and what to put in it.

    I encouraged him to help with the application. I am certain it will be useful. I’m not envisioning it being used in the first days after the disaster, but certainly in the coming weeks.

    In Afghanistan one of the things I observed is that as time goes on a wider range of smaller organizations get involved. These generally don’t have GIS support or expensive technology. Efforts such as this, coordinating imagery, mapping, and smart phone apps, may be extremely useful in the ‘long-tail’ of reconstruction. Consumer technology needs to be brought in as it’s lower cost and easier to use than the equipment used in the initial response.

    A GPS unit capable of color maps is several times more expensive than an iPhone, and as far as I know the iPhone has a higher resolution screen than any on the market. Even if the cell service doesn’t work, a few hundred bucks for an overhead view is a HUGE help. I expect smart phones will be integrated further into disaster response.

    Even if a particular iPhone app doesn’t reach the hands of a Haitian, the knowledge and networks produced in the last 24 hours around the task were certainly worth it. Disasters happen in areas with iPhones too, and cell coverage is certainly going to go out, so being able to quickly turn around projects like this will be valuable in the future.

    I do have some concerns with using iPhones and smartphones. For instance in Afghanistan the GPS was horrible, it would sometimes place me several hundred miles off. I wouldn’t respond with *only* an iPhone, it is going to have to be used with caution until the technology is validated, but that wont happen until we start using the tech in the field (cautiously).

    I’d love to engage in further discussion and planning. My e mail is HuffmanTM@gmail.com

  • Josh Knauer

    BoingBoing has a great post today about the redundant people finder issue: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/01/17/haiti-a-call-to-peop.html

  • Chase Clark

    This is a great app to see being released. However, one question. AT&T says that their partners in Haiti do not have wireless service restored. So how are relief workers able to use the iPhone to get realtime data and make and receive cell calls there? I have friends heading there tomorrow so any ideas would be much appreciated.

  • Anna Hentzel


    This app allows you to mass download the map tiles. So before they leave for Haiti they can download the map tiles covering the area they’ll be visiting. The GPS functionality of the phone will work in Haiti, so they’ll be able to see their position on the maps and look around the area without service.

    They could also download maps in Haiti if they’re able to find wifi somewhere.

  • Eduardo Jezierski

    I suggest that instead of having parallel dialogues about potential on one side, and risks on the other; that we commit to exploring potential but later dispassionately measuring outcomes and results and being transparent about it, and as scientific as we can in this messy space. How are you planning on receiving feedback?

    I agree with ToddH’s points, this could be useful for some; and IMO searching for a silver bullet is a behavioral antipattern in this space.