Mapping with Open-Source Software

My name is Eliud Flores, a student at Texas Tech University, and participant of the USAID Geocenter’s 2019 Spring Internship. I am a current Geography Major with a minor in Geographic Information Systems, and during the course of my education, I have been working on a pet project of mine, one that mainly centers around my hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. Before I immigrated to the United States, me and my hometown suffered at the hands of a major Hurricane called Alex. Ever since I became a Geography major, I have been using what I learned in each class to craft better maps and information that might be helpful in case of a future Hurricane. 

 

During the course of this internship, I have learned to use open-sourced software such as JOSM and QGIS for mapping purposes. Which was a bit of a new thing for me, being only taught in Arc-map, and the use of the in-browser editor for OSM for most of my education at Texas Tech. Fortunately, the basics were similar enough to play around with the software. Knowing enough about the software to play around in it is basically more than half the battle when it comes to grasping the basics.

 

It was during an internship meeting, that I realized that there were some things that QGIS had that Arc-map didn’t, or at least, does not have to my knowledge. One of the things it boasts is its inclusion of third-party plug-ins. One of the guests on our internship did a showcase of one such plug-in called “InaSAFE.” This plug-in allowed the user to make realistic natural hazard impact scenarios. The plug-in takes data directly from Open Street Map, (such as building polygons, roads, etc.) and contrast them with a hazard layer (flood maps, earthquakes) either from a single past event, or historical data. What really caught my attention, is that if we add a population raster layer, it is capable of doing a concrete analysis to the point of the number of people affected by the disaster. I attempted to test out this Plug-in in an ongoing project I had in my Geography Seminar class, the study area being Monterey, California. Flood maps are a bit scarce or hard to find in Mexico, at least in comparison to ones in the United States.

 

 My first successful attempt in using InaSafe for a possible flood hazard in Monterey.

 

Another thing that I found immensely useful was how this plug-in allowed me to download Open Street Map data. I have struggled over the course of my studies to find a way to download the building polygons and the line roads of data in an efficient manner. This plug-in allowed me to do that. It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I did switch between Arc-map and QGIS a lot between my experimentation. Even with everything I learned with QGIS, I still have no clue how to do certain stuff with it, at lest not yet.

 

I did a couple of major setbacks in this project. A major one I had was when I realized I could make a simple flood risk analysis and try to use that as a Hazard Layer over at InaSAFE. I started having trouble when I realized that this flood analysis was tested at a coastal city, not a mountainous one. It proved to be extremely hard to replicate the results from the tutorial I found. I know it worked properly because I did the same thing in Monterey, California, to great results. My plan was that I would use this flood analysis to overcome the fact that I had no flood GIS data from Monterrey, Mexico. This was my attempt at creating my own, even if it was based on estimates. Given how flimsy it sounds to use a prediction (flood analysis) to make another prediction (InaSAFE), perhaps it is for the best that I failed in that regard.

 

Anyways, I think this is an apt summary of what I learned during the course of this internship, and even what I plan to do with it. This was the key that I personally needed to finally use what Open Street Mapping has to offer. It is one thing to map the world, but up until now, I had no idea how to properly use it with mapping software. Maybe one day I will complete my personal project, so that my hometown will be better prepared the next time a Hurricane comes.

 

 

Eliud Flores is a student at Texas Tech University and is pursuing a Geography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) degree. An immigrant from the Mexican nation, he actively pursues ways he can use GIS applications to help his hometown. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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