posted 2012-11-21 22:54:08

Hunter Graduate Student Creates Volunteer Map

Google software engineers incorporate student’s volunteer map 

Jenady Garshofsky

Editor-In-Chief

Days after Hurricane Sandy swept through the Northeast coast, leaving behind a devastating trail, Graduate Urban Affairs and Planning Associations (GUAPA) Community Coordinator Alyssa Pichardo, mapped out volunteer and donation opportunities throughout New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. Her map was so efficient, software engineers at Google reached out to Pichardo to add the volunteer map to Google’s Superstorm Sandy NYC Crisis map.

Pichardo decided to make the map because she realized meeting with students from the Urban Affairs and Planning Department to do a group volunteer event for Sandy victims would be challenging. So, she brought volunteer opportunities to them, and over 50,000 other people each day after it went viral.

“The breadth of info-sharing and where the map eventually ended up far exceeded my expectations and [it] was really successful in directing volunteers to opportunities around NYC,” Pichardo said.
The map consists of research from social media, local blogs and news outlets. Pichardo updated the map every few hours during the first few days after the storm. Students and alumni of the department spread the map “ far and wide” until a Google Software Engineer directly emailed Pichardo asking if her software team at Google could add Pichardo’s map as a layer on Google.org crisis map.

Pichardo explained that she spent the weekend after the storm working with Google staff. She helped Google engineers by “transferring the original Google Map from the ‘My Maps’ feature into a spreadsheet database and coding latitude and longitude for the sites.” She also developed online forms to continue “crowd sourcing the volunteer opportunities data.”

Pichardo recalls how several of her co-workers and classmates told her that her map had been helpful in locating volunteer opportunities, and finding donation sites near their homes.
“The most valuable lesson I learned was that plan big and be prepared to adapt your data and mapping process for unanticipated needs.”

Currently, the Sandy NYC Crisis Map is now being updated and maintained regularly by OccupySandy and InterOccupy activists.

Picahrdo plans to continue mapping for communities whether “in times of crisis or as a transportation planner.” With Professor Laxmi Ramasubramanian, she is working on a mobile application to help bicycle and pedestrian advocates map their roadway survey data from the field. She is also a Masters of Urban Planning Candidate for 2013.

“Public participation through mapping can help communities communicate

their needs and values in a visual way,” Pichardo said.