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Back for a seventh year of providing situational awareness to federal, state, and local emergency managers, the PhotoMappers team got an early start to 2023 when a series of atmospheric rivers swamped most of California and a deadly tornado outbreak struck the southeastern United States—all within the first two weeks of January.

As in past years, PhotoMappers continues to be a collaboration between GISCorps, NAPSG Foundation, and CEDR Digital Corps. NAPSG Foundation hosts the PhotoMappers applications and serves as the principal point of contact for emergency managers at the federal, state and local levels. NAPSG staff field activation requests and remain in frequent communication with emergency responders throughout each activation, passing along areas of focus and concern to the PhotoMappers team. CEDR Digital Corps are the social media experts, contributing automated social media search tools and promoting the PhotoMappers effort on social media. GISCorps, in turn, fields and manages a large team of mapping volunteers. These volunteers scour social media for relevant photos of on-the-ground conditions, geolocate each photo as precisely as possible, and upload it to the map using a Survey123 form embedded in a custom Volunteer Portal built in Experience Builder. The GISCorps Admin Team vets each photo for locational accuracy and adds a primary lifeline and a preliminary building damage score where appropriate. Each GISCorps PhotoMappers activation is managed by members of the GISCorps Disaster Response Subcommittee.

Screenshot of the PhotoMappers Volunteer Portal
PhotoMappers Volunteer Portal

Emergency managers and first responders can view and filter the vetted photos on interactive maps and dashboards, getting an at-a-glance sense of each storm’s impacts to the communities they serve. These applications, as well as the raw data, are publicly available on NAPSG’s PhotoMappers Hub Site.

Screenshot of the PhotoMappers Public Portal
PhotoMappers Public Portal


Hurricane Lee

Hurricane Lee made landfall in New England as a post-tropical cyclone on September 16, 2023, bringing heavy rain and wind primarily to Massachusetts and Maine. On September 15, NAPSG Foundation activated a small group of PhotoMappers volunteers to map the damage of the storm. Mackenzie Fox, Brad Fisher, Hannah Larsen, and Keith Johnson of the PhotoMappers Admin Team mapped and vetted 21 photos during this one-day activation. This mission was led by Katie Picchione. 

Volunteer portal at the end of the Hurricane Lee activation.

Project complete.

Hurricane Idalia

In late August, Hurricane Idalia hit the southeastern United States as a powerful Category 4 hurricane and caused significant damage, particularly in northern Florida. On August 29, NAPSG Foundation activated GISCorps’ PhotoMappers for a two-day activation to find, map, and geolocate photos to provide situational awareness to responders and assess the hurricane’s damage. Eight volunteers and seven members of the PhotoMappers Admin Team provided support, mapping points across Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

View of photos mapped at the end of activation.

Project complete.

Tropical Storm Hilary

Tropical Storm Hilary made landfall near Ensenada in Mexico’s northern Baja California peninsula on August 20th, moving quickly into Southern California, prompting the National Weather Service to issue California’s first ever tropical storm watch and warning. Expecting very large amounts of rain that could cause flash flooding and landslides, federal emergency managers requested a PhotoMappers activation to provide early situational awareness during the event.

Screenshot of the PhotoMappers Volunteer Portal web application, showing that 133 photos were uploaded during Tropical Storm Hilary.
Over twenty volunteers geolocated and uploaded 133 photos in the PhotoMappers Volunteer Portal during the 2023 Tropical Storm Hilary activation.

Twenty-two volunteers contributed to the effort between August 19th and August 21st, sourcing photos from social media and news sources and then geolocating, categorizing, and uploading them to the PhotoMappers Volunteer Portal. The resulting map showed widespread transportation disruptions, with the most severe effects centered around the Coachella Valley, Palmdale, and the Oak Glen area of Yucaipa. New summer rainfall records were recorded across Southern California, with San Bernardino County receiving more than 13″ of rain from Hilary. 

Screenshot of the PhotoMappers public portal with the map centered on the Coachella Valley during the 2023 Tropical Storm Hilary activation.
One of the areas hit hardest during Tropical Storm Hilary was California’s Coachella Valley, where mudslides closed the highway in both directions and many roads were flooded or filled with mud and debris.

This mission was led by Katie Picchione, Erin Arkison, and Holly Torpey. The Admin Team members supporting this mission were Keith Johnson, John Haddad, Brad Fischer, Hannah Larsen, and Johnathan Clementi.

Project Complete.

Maui Fires

On August 8, 2023, a series of fast-moving wildfires broke out across the island of Maui, followed by additional, less catastrophic fires on the island of Hawaii on August 9th. The historic town of Lahaina on Maui’s western peninsula was largely reduced to ashes; at least 115 lives were lost (a number likely to climb significantly) and over 3,000 structures destroyed.

NAPSG Foundation activated the PhotoMappers Team on August 9th, and several Admin Team members jumped in and started searching for photos to geolocate, categorize, and upload. The team was able to find photos of evacuations, shelters, and damage, but their search for on-the-ground reports of damage and needs was hampered by a widespread loss of cellular communications networks and electricity on much of the island of Maui. 

Screenshot of photos mapped by the PhotoMappers team during the August 2023 Maui wildfires.
In August 2023, multiple wildfires burned in the state of Hawaii; the most severe one decimated the town of Lahaina on Maui.

By August 10th, the team had mapped over 60 photos. This activation was managed by Erin Arkison and Katie Picchione with support from Carlos Saavedra and Holly Torpey.

Project Complete.

March Tornado Outbreak

Screenshot of photos mapped by the GISCorps PhotoMappers team for the 2023 March Tornado Outbreak
During the March Tornado Outbreak activation, PhotoMappers volunteers mapped photos of damage across four southeastern states.

Project Complete.

California Atmospheric Rivers – Part II

In mid-March, another series of atmospheric rivers soaked California’s lower and middle elevations with rain and buried its higher elevations in several feet of new snow on top of an already record-setting snowpack. Millions of residents were under flood watches, hundreds of thousands lost power, and thousands were ordered to evacuate.

On March 10th, NAPSG Foundation requested that GISCorps activate the PhotoMappers team to source, geolocate, and upload photos of the expected flooding, landslides, and snow-related impacts statewide. Flooding was particularly severe in Santa Cruz, Monterey, Kern, and Tulare Counties, with widespread flooding of structures in the communities of Pajaro and Springville. Throughout the state, roads and bridges were undermined, washed out, or closed by flooding, landslides, rockfalls, avalanches and sinkholes. Multiple commercial and residential structures were damaged or collapsed under the weight of the snow, especially at middle elevations where an unusual amount of existing snow was made heavier by rainfall and at high elevations where cumulative winter snowfall totals have exceeded 600 inches in some areas.

Screenshot of the dashboard on the PhotoMappers volunteer portal showing that 224 photos were uploaded for the California Atmospheric Rivers Part II activation.
The dashboard in the PhotoMappers volunteer portal after closeout of the California Atmospheric Rivers Part II activation.

The mission continued through March 15th, by which time the PhotoMappers team had mapped 224 photos in California and western Nevada. In total, eighteen PhotoMappers volunteers geolocated and uploaded photos, and six Admin Team members vetted photos and enriched them with preliminary building damage scores. The crowdsourced data were used by emergency managers and search-and-rescue teams for situational awareness and early damage assessment purposes.

Project Complete.

Southeast Texas Tornado

January 24th was a weather day that many Houstonians are used to with the exception of the enhanced risk of tornadoes from the NWS. That afternoon this risk came to fruition as the storm raced across the Houston Metro area. A cell dropped a tornado that travelled about 20 miles effecting Pearland, Pasadena, Deer Park, the Houston Ship Channel and into Baytown. The storm then went on to produce smaller tornadoes in Chambers, Jefferson & Orange Counties before crossing into Louisiana.

NAPSG Foundation activated the PhotoMappers with a focus on Southeast Houston. Six GISCorps volunteers jumped into action for a one-day activation and within six hours were able to map approximately sixty photos of damage throughout the region.

Volunteer portal during the Southeast Texas Tornado activation.

Project complete.

Southeast Tornado Outbreak

The day after the the PhotoMappers team closed out the California Atmospheric Rivers activation, NAPSG Foundation once again requested help from GISCorps as severe thunderstorms swept across the southeastern United States. On January 12th, at least five tornadoes touched down in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, destroying property, knocking out power, and killing at least nine people. Seven GISCorps volunteers jumped into action for a one-day activation, mapping approximately sixty photos of damage throughout the region.

Photo Gallery showing tornado damage photos.

GISCorps volunteers participating in this mission included Brad Fisher, Hannah Gonzales, Hannah Larsen, John Haddad, Keith Johnson, and Cara Maney. The mission was led by Erin Arkison.

Project Complete.

California Atmospheric Rivers

In late December and early January, a series of atmospheric rivers—long, narrow currents of water vapor flowing from the tropics across the Pacific to North America—pounded the west coast of the United States in rapid succession. These storms brought damaging winds, widespread flooding, snowstorms, landslides, power outages, and evacuations throughout most of California. At least 19 people died.

NAPSG Foundation activated the PhotoMappers team on January 3rd, and 28 GISCorps volunteers responded. Over the course of the next nine days, the volunteers found, geolocated, and mapped over 250 photos.

Mapping volunteers for this mission included Josh Bruning, Christina Brunsvold, Tiffany Chau, Crystal Fraley, Rachel George, Michelle Hooper, Jennifer Horsman, Matt Krause, Tricia Saulnier Littlejohn, Cara Maney, Don Maxwell, Emma Montague, Shay Muhonen, Eric Sharpe, Miguel Silva, and Megan Wunderlich. The Admin Team consisted of Johnathan Clementi, Brad Fisher, Mackenzie Fox, Hannah Gonzales, John Haddad, Keith Johnson, Hannah Larsen, Emilie Pratt, and Jason San Souci. The mission was led by Erin Arkison, Holly Torpey, and German Whitley.

Volunteer portal near the end of the California Atmospheric Rivers activation.

Project complete.

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