Map-a-thon training

Spatial Information by the community for the community

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to the SSSI National Bushfire Recovery Map-a-thon.

Thank you for your participation at this event and for supporting the communities that have suffered loss and trauma due to the devastating bushfires that have ripped through our beautiful country.

Since September 2019, bushfires have burnt over 18.6 million hectares of land and killed 34 people.  An estimated one billion animals have been killed and it is feared that some endangered species may be driven to extinction. Major bushfires have heavily impacted regions of New South Wales, eastern and north-eastern Victoria, Canberra and Kangaroo Island in South Australia, and large areas of forest have been burnt. 

Reinforcements from all over Australia responded to assist fire fighters and relieve exhausted local crews. The Australian Defence Force was mobilised to provide air support to the firefighting effort and to provide manpower and logistical support. Firefighters and equipment from New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Fiji and the United States, among others, helped fight the fires, especially in New South Wales.  

Geospatial teams were also in action - mapping fires and modelling fire trajectory scenarios for the firefighters. Many of the teams were joined by local volunteer mapping groups trained in disaster response GIS activities.

This map-a-thon came about as we were inundated will calls, from our surveying and spatial sciences community, asking what they could do to help their fellow Australians.  Calls came from individuals and companies offering support.  SSSI reached out to Commonwealth and State Government agencies, the newly formed National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA), industry peak bodies and NGOs, seeking advice on how our profession could contribute, particularly as we knew government had mobilised its own mapping teams, who were already on the ground. 
This consultation led to the map-a-thon we are holding today and a StoryMap that we are currently working on with supporters NGIS Australia and ESRI Australia.  Volunteer surveyors are also engaged in supporting government on the ground to identify where survey marks need replacing and boundaries re-establishing.

For SSSI, this is our first map-a-thon covering Australia. Your feedback after today’s map-a-thon will be hugely valuable. We plan to run more of these events in the future to collect new features, and validate and verify data collected today, and as changes occur and the community begins to recover. 

The map-a-thon has been a huge logistical exercise, requiring the coordinated effort of many volunteers, including a large contingent of SSSI Young Professionals, nationally. The technical aspects alone have been complex to set up, with many lessons learnt along the way.  We recognise we still have much to learn, and are keen to hear from YOU on how we can improve this capability to better help those requiring mapping information in the future. 

The initial aim is to understand the impact the fires have had on our infrastructure (homes, outbuildings, facilities, fences and power poles etc). This information is intended as a guide for recovery efforts and is not a replacement for authoritative data sources. We are using the OpenStreetMap (OSM), which has the capability to make coordinated and collaborative data capture possible, as well as providing the means to put these maps in the hands of local businesses and the community that do not have access to GIS support teams to manage complex spatial data files - yet still need basic maps to make visual assessments and plan for the future. OSM enables this service as a free and open access system that is easy to use by the public, and is supported by a network of spatial data experts, passionate about mapping. A BIG thank you to OSM and Hot Tasker for providing admin access and training in setting-up OSM for the map-a-thon, and to our SSSI YPs for undertaking the training.

We are grateful to NGIS Australia for their GIS for setting up the map-a-thon capability along with the Hot Tasker Manager, who provided ‘on-boarding’ at short notice.  

We are fortunate to have access to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of imagery for our map-a-thoners.  We are exceedingly grateful to Nearmap for providing high resolution aerial imagery that they have recently flown and processed in a hurry for us to reference at the map-a-thon today.  The imagery is so detailed – it provides a chilling reality of what our community and response teams faced.  Satellite imagery has been provided by imagery giants - Planet Labs and Airbus, which will provide a ‘first look’ at the fire impacted areas.  This imagery along with the Nearmap data is crucial to the map-a-thon capability, particularly as post fire imagery is scarce. Also, vital, is the government mapping data from VicMap, NSW Spatial Services and the NSW Royal Fire Service.  This government data, as well as the Airbus and Nearmap data is provided through a map service for map-a-thoners to reference to aid image interpretation.  

The map-a-thon is being held in seven locations across Australia. Five venues have been kindly provided by GHD, Hydro Tasmania provided our Tasmania site and in South Australia the site has been provided by Aurecon.  We have 40 teams in office or home locations, over 120 individuals participating at one of our six locations around Australia and nearly 300 individuals from within Australia and over 100 from overseas from 26 countries participating - all this from just one social media post.  Around the globe we have participants from FIG Young Professionals, Albania, Belgium, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Fiji Islands, Germany, Ghana, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Jamaica, Kenya, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Philippines, Qatar, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, USA, and Zimbabwe. A BIG shout-out to FIG Young Professionals and URISA GIS Corps.  The surveying and spatial sciences has done us proud.
Since notification of the Map-a-thon, several NGO’s, government departments and community groups have reached out asking for specific mapping support to enable them to better respond to emerging needs within our community and future preparedness efforts.  Requests range from data analysis, address validation and specific data collection themes. There is also significant interest in disaster preparedness tasks to better understand future high-risk areas and where ground volunteers may potentially be needed in the future.  Community organisations have also sought data to gain a better understanding of social and economic impacts in the wake of damage to crops and orchards, and the loss of wildlife and farm animals etc.  

As a consequence of these many requests, SSSI has developed a form by which the community can formalise their requests.  This form is now available on our website at The requests will be incorporated into ongoing SSSI volunteer activities and future map-a-thons.  Indeed, while this first map-a-thon is running, several groups at our map-a-thon venues will be concentrating on these urgent needs.

A number of leading agencies in the surveying and spatial sciences community have evolving initiatives that also support bushfire recovery efforts.  To assist in coordinating and collaborating on these important volunteer activities, SSSI has established a Special Interest Group – Disaster Management and Recovery – to focus on pre- and post- disaster needs.  Those joining forces include, NBRA, Australian Spatial Information Education and Research Association (ASIERA), ANZLIC, Red Cross, Parks Victoria and others to be announced shortly.  One of the objectives is to consider how the volunteer surveying and spatial community, including researchers, can support ongoing disaster preparedness efforts and maintain momentum in resilience efforts. 

The data collected during the map-a-thon may also be incorporated into the 2019-20 Australian Bushfire StoryMap.  The community will be able to upload their Bushfire experiences, and our SSSI YPs will be on hand to help those to link their story to map features.  NGOs have indicated that being able to ‘tell your story’ of a traumatic event is a way for people to start their journey of recovery.  We are excited to bring this StoryMap to you with supporters ESRI and NGIS.   More on this later.

To all those businesses that have come to our support with offers of software, refreshments and financial assistance for the map-a-thon and future events – we say thank you to - NGIS Australia, Nearmap, Planet Labs, Airbus, GHD, Hexagon Geospatial, Jacobs, Leica Geosystems, ESRI Australia, Aurecon, Veris, and Safe Software.

Finally, whether you are joining the map-a-thon from home, from the office or at one of our venues around Australia - a BIG THANK YOU to you, and our Australian and global community of surveying and spatial professionals, for supporting the bushfire recovery effort. 
One more thing, connect with us during the day if you have any questions or want to share interesting finds using the SSSI Bushfire Recovery Discord chat server. Please use your social media to share images using #SSSIBushfireRecovery. We have also created a SSSI Bushfire Recovery Spotify playlist for you to listen to while you map. 

Please click here for the SSSI National Bushfire Recovery Map-a-thon Training Manual. This will give you the details on how to start mapping!
IMPORTANT – Please read the Training Manual before you start participating!

The comprehensive training manual is a step by step guide which will show you how to participate in the Map-a-thon. If you have any issues, please use the Help-centre in Discord to ask questions. 

Happy Mapping!