It is not an immediately obvious partnership, and yet open data and crisis response go together incredibly well. As storms have lashed the East coast of the US in recent days, causing tragic loss of life and enormous financial damage, many of the tools which have helped citizens to track its path and stay safe have been built on the back of open government data. Just as with the Open Street Map community’s response in the Haiti disaster, we find that with open data at their fingertips, civic hackers and developers are able to build useful tools in an emergency with a speed that far outstrips what centralised government agencies are able to produce.

Check out the Google Crisis Map of Hurricane Sandy, which predicts the future of the storm in real time, including power outages; or the New York Times’s evacuation map. Or if you’re a coder wanting to work with others in the tech community, check out HurricaneHackers who are working on projects and resources for Sandy. Alex Howard is tracking the datastorm here.

He writes:

When natural disasters loom, public open government data feeds become critical infrastructure … it’s key to understand that it’s government weather data, gathered and shared from satellites high above the Earth, that’s being used by a huge number of infomediaries to forecast, predict and instruct people about what to expect and what to do.

And New York City’s Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Haot, wrote to TechCrunch:

Open data is critical in crisis situations because it allows government to inform and serve more people than it ever could on its own through conventional channels. By making data freely available in a usable format for civic-minded developers and technology platforms, government can exponentially scale its communications and service delivery.

We’ve set up a CKAN group for data related to Sandy here:

If you’re interested in contributing, there are some useful links to get started with here.

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Theodora is press officer at the Open Knowledge Foundation, based in London. Get in touch via

3 thoughts on “Hurricane Sandy and open data”

  1. OpenStreetMap is useful again for responding to Hurricane Sandy. We got a wiki page listing some interesting uses (and interested in gathering more) But of course, being a developed country, it has maps already, so it’s not as useful as in the case of Haiti. However OpenStreetMap is the best most detailed open data map of the area, and as you’ve said, open data can be a surprising enabler for innovation in crisis response.

    In the case of maps and presumably many other datasets, they will often not be solely “crisis oriented”. For example a list of small businesses offering plumbing services would be a useful resource for all sorts of reasons, but could additionally be tagged as useful in relation to hurricane Sandy.

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