Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Barbara Buttenfield

Second Advisor

Joe Bryan

Third Advisor

Stefan Leyk

Fourth Advisor

Leysia Palen

Fifth Advisor

Sarah Elwood


OpenStreetMap (OSM), commonly described as the Wikipedia of maps, gained particular visibility in the wake of the January 12th 2010 earthquake in Haiti when approximately 503 OSM users who did not live in Haiti donated their time to map the country in a very short period of time. This dissertation documents at user and database levels the crisis mapping in OSM in response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. The mapping efforts in the OSM database for Haiti are worth investigating because volunteer mappers for the first time added information to a database at such a rate, in such quantities and with enough detail that it became the de-facto source of geographic information for most of the major relief agencies involved. The crisis mapping response to the Haiti earthquake demonstrates that VGI is rapidly becoming a viable, even necessary, option for communities that need help mapping their world. Given the socio/technical undercurrents of VGI, consequences exist within the context of crisis mapping of its use for social causes. A mixed-methods approach documents the crisis mapping, utilizing an online survey of the OSM Haiti crisis mappers, semi-structured interviews of OSM crisis mappers who went to Haiti, a Modified Content Analysis and a spatial analysis of the OSM Haiti database. For comparative purposes the analyses are performed starting one month before the earthquake and extending six months after. Results show that in the case of the OSM Haiti response, the term crisis mapping encompasses a varied and multi-layered process. For OSM Haiti, users not only crisis mapped as a humanitarian response but also because of a complex urge to map, driven by both membership in the OSM community and the need to fill in blank space in the OSM database. Consequences of employing a volunteer labor force for crisis mapping are discussed within the organizing rubric of the OSM Haiti users, the OSM database, and the affected Haitian population.