March 9-10 is Holi, an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring with a riot of colour. To mark the occasion I asked the MapAction members for their interesting tips, facts, examples and experiences – anything they felt moved to share – about the use and importance of colour in mapping.
A few people sent me examples of maps they’ve created in which colour was particularly important in communicating and differentiating between different layers of information. Colour can be used to increase the amounts and types of information a map contains without reducing its readability. Divergent colours are often used to differentiate between types of data shown, while sequential colour scales can show degrees of prevalence of a particular feature.
MapAction’s Geospatial Services Coordinator, Matt Sims, shared with me a map of South Sudan he produced in 2014 for our partner ACAPS. He used divergent colours to differentiate between layers of information including data about food security, health and internally displaced people (IDP) movements. At the same time, a sequential colour scale gives an immediate visual indicator of the severity of the food insecurity in each county.
In this colourful 2017 language map of Borno, Eastern Nigeria (below), MapAction volunteer Mark Gillick used divergent colours to show at a glance which groups of IDPs were in locations with a local language other than their own. The map also shows the size and location of each community.
Mark also flagged up the use of divergent colour to enhance communication in the London Underground map and the map below from 1895 of different nationalities in Chicago, USA.
MapAction’s Head of Training and Learning Emma Mumford pointed me to a lovely looking and rather fascinating thematic map of age demographics in Switzerland created by mapping blogger Timo Grossenbacher. The sequential colour scale shows how different age groups are clustered in certain areas. It also demonstrates why yellow is generally taken to be a highlight colour, as the yellow and orange areas stand out against the purples.
Colour considerations and cautions
I had an interesting chat with MapAction volunteer duo Becky and Andy Kervell. As well as flagging up ColorBrewer as a useful mapping resource, they talked me through some of the issues to bear in mind when thinking about colour choices.
Colour blindness – this is quite a common problem. Most people with colour-vision deficiency have difficulty distinguishing between red and green. ‘Red-green’ deficiency affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women globally and can make it hard for them to tell the difference between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens. They may also have difficulty distinguishing between shades of purple and may not be able to tell red from black. ‘Blue-yellow’ deficiency – affecting vision of blues, greens and yellows – is another form of colour blindness that is much rarer. This Brilliant Maps blog explores what maps look like to people with colour-vision deficiency.
Format, use and context – colours look different on screen compared to paper, so the ways in which a map is distributed and used should affect colour choice. If a map is intended to be desktop printed, questions around the quality and availability of printers and inks arise. If a colour map is printed in black and white, will it still be fit for purpose? If a map is shown via a projector, will details be visible?
Cultural significances – colours have different meanings and associations in different parts of the world. For example, in some cultures, death is associated with black; in others, with white. Red can be associated with danger, good fortune or grief and death, among other things, depending on where you are. This is one good reason why team diversity, as well as awareness of and consideration for different cultures, is important in mapping – as elsewhere in life.
Another interesting fact I learned in the course of compiling this blog is that mappers use up a lot of blue ink. Because – oceans. According to MapAction’s logistics manager Andy Punter, who looks after all the kit used by our teams on deployment, we get through three or four times as many cyan ink cartridges as any other colour. So, if you ever come across a map with feathering around a land mass to denote the sea instead of a solid block of blue, thriftiness could be the reason.
This is the first in an irregular series of blogs in which we use an international event such as Holi, as an excuse (as if one were needed) to celebrate the diversity of mappers, maps and mapping.
This week, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise our ongoing working relationship with our partner Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) at Humanitarian Networks Partnerships Week in Geneva.
HOT is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. MapAction and HOT have been collaborating for some time to ensure that humanitarian teams have the maps they need to locate and assist people affected by emergencies, particularly in remote places.
In 2017, MapAction became a member of Missing Maps, a joint venture founded by HOT, the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross and Médicin Sans Frontières to map the most vulnerable places in the world. In 2019, we worked with HOT during the responses to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. You can read more about our joint activities in this article by MapAction volunteer Steve Penson.
We look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration together.
Earlier this year, MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes blogged about diversity in the humanitarian and technology/GIS sectors and why it’s important. Since then, we’ve been working to evolve our practices in this area.
MapAction volunteer Bel Hewitt has been involved in shaping our diversity and inclusion policy and helping us to work towards our objectives. The policy outlines MapAction’s commitments, accountability and actions on all aspects of diversity.
Bel lives in the Philippines, so we took the opportunity to catch up with her for an informal chat about where we’re at with it and where we want to get to when she stopped by our UK office on a holiday visit today.
Two MapAction members are currently in Tallinn, Estonia, participating in and helping to facilitate a course for UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) Assessment and Analysis Cell teams. Participants are looking in detail at ways in which data and analysis can inform fast-moving and chaotic emergency situations.
Earier this month, three MapAction volunteers provided mapping and data support to an International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) earthquake simulation exercise in Azerbaijan, known as the Africa-Europe-Middle East (AEME) Regional Earthquake Response Exercise (ERE).
Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.
At the end of October, two MapAction volunteers participated in a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) refresher training course in Neuhausen, Germany. As well as presenting to participants on humanitarian mapping, they supported the simulation exercise with mapping.
These regular training courses enable all involved to enhance and update their skills and knowledge and share insights from disaster responses.
One MapAction participant described the course as a “fantastic week”, while the other described the UNDAC trainees as a “Really dedicated team with interesting first hand experiences from Idai and Dorian.”
We’re grateful to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.
At the end of August and beginning of September, Tropical Storm PODUL and Tropical Depression KAJIKI caused heavy rain in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This resulted in flooding in six provinces in the southern part of the country. 1,658 villages across 47 Districts have been affected.
A MapAction volunteer is currently working in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Emergency Operations Centre in Jakarta to support our partner the AHA CENTRE as they assist the response. He is supporting the Emergency Response Assessment Team by mapping the evolving situation on the ground, conducting geospatial analysis to compare with 2018 flash flooding in the region, and helping to identify gaps in coverage to help get aid where it’s most needed. This also involves establishing information management and GIS systems and templates for Lao that will be useful beyond the current emergency.
We’re very grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting this work.
One of MapAction’s longest-serving volunteers, Kathrin Renner, recently spoke to Daniel O’Donohue, presenter of the Mapscaping podcast series, about how MapAction provides geospatial support for humanitarian emergencies.
They chatted about how MapAction supports first responders and disaster management teams to make the best possible decisions and what it’s like to be a MapAction volunteer.
You can hear their conversation here (it’s a 22 minute listen).
Two MapAction training courses are in progress in Trinidad & Tobago this week.
Three MapAction team members are privileged to be working with members of civil protection response teams from Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Surinam. We are collaborating to share geospatial skills and experiences to support readiness for response to communities.
In the region, hurricanes and storms are a key concern, but several countries also respond to a multitude of different concerns affecting their citizens including earthquakes and other seismic risks.
We are very grateful for the support of The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management of Trinidad & Tobago for their support. This is part of an ongoing joint programme we are carrying out with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). We have already run humanitarian mapping courses with CDEMA in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and Jamaica. This important work is funded by US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).
Training MapAction’s latest recruits
Also in Trinidad & Tobago this week, the newest members of MapAction’s Caribbean section are being put through their paces on our Conversion Course which, through a combination of theory and practical exercises, prepares our GIS expert volunteers for deployments to humanitarian emergencies.
The week-long course covers numerous topics including sources and collection of humanitarian data, mapping in emergency conditions, priority needs and the timeline of a response.
Earlier this year we embarked on a round of volunteer recruitment to find mapping and geographical information system (GIS) experts living and working in the Caribbean. The aim was to expand our small team in the region to ensure we are always well placed to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies across the Caribbean, working with our close partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). This includes pre-positioning personnel when necessary to provide mapping and data support in the event of severe tropical storms.
We are delighted to now welcome three exceptionally high-calibre volunteers who bring a tremendous amount of additional knowledge, expertise and energy to an already very strong Caribbean team.
Deanesh lives in Trinidad and is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Maritime and Ocean Studies (CMOS) of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He teaches GIS and remote sensing and has recently worked on a multi-agency research project funded by NASA, using drones for studying coastal ecosystems. His work has been published in international and regional journals and he is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
My interest in MapAction began after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. The response by MapAction volunteers to it, as well as to other Caribbean disasters since then, inspired me to join the humanitarian effort.
Deanesh also volunteers as a mentor for the Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), the longest standing non-formal STEM education programme in the region, as well as for a local non-profit organisation called Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) which seeks to effect change through technology and education. In his free time he enjoys travelling, meeting new people, swimming and yoga.
Lavern is from the beautiful Caribbean island of Montserrat where she lives and works as a GIS Manager. She loves travelling, meeting new people and learning about new cultures. She especially loves star gazing!
Following the events of the 2017 hurricane season, I wanted to use my skills more to help mitigate against the impacts of disasters. When the call came for Caribbean GIS professionals to join MapAction, I was further inspired. I am passionate about GIS and I want to use my knowledge and skills to help people when they are most in need and to help to save lives. MapAction provides the platform for me to do just that!
Mike is currently the Hazard Mitigation and GIS Specialist within the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME), Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an Urban and Regional Planner by profession and holds a Masters degree in Built Environment with a specialisation in Geomatics. He joined the Disaster Management Team in 2016 and that same year was part of the CDEMA Regional Response Mechanism that was deployed to the Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew, which was when he first encountered MapAction.
Prior to joining DDME, Mike was a volunteer in Damage and Needs Assessment (DANA) as well as lead facilitator for them. Outside of Disaster Management, Mike is happily married with three girls. He enjoys carpentry and coaching basketball.
“Ever since Hurricane Matthew, I was eager to be a part of MapAction. I look forward to serving in this new capacity and being a part of the MapAction family.”