After typhoon Haiyan smashed into the Philippines on 8 November, an army of volunteers mobilized and worked around the clock to help guide relief efforts. But these were no boots on the ground. Instead, they were citizens from around the world who quickly analysed satellite imagery and other data, generating maps to provide relief agencies with invaluable crowdsourced information.
Crowdsourced disaster response, until a few years ago informal and often haphazard, is now getting more organized, and is being embraced by official humanitarian organizations and integrated into relief operations. Volunteer efforts have multiplied thanks to the arrival of online mapping tools, the increasing popularity of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and the spread of mobile phones. A suite of volunteer groups are emerging that contribute to disaster response in tight coordination with conventional relief organizations.