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World Health Organization Ebola Response – winter/spring 2015

I was one of four volunteers that provided GIS support and coordination to the World Health Organization during the Ebola response effort.  Each GISCorps volunteer was deployed to a different country and we worked independently to assist various project but also worked as a team and held weekly conference calls. I was stationed in Accra, Ghana as the GIS Officer for the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).  Accra was the headquarters for UNMEER and I had the opportunity to work with many groups of people and assist in processing data and preparing maps for them as they traveled in and out of the three affected countries.  Originally I was chosen for the position due to my ArcGIS Online skills, however as the response to the Ebola outbreak changed almost daily so did my duties.  The project that I focused most of my time on was acquiring and cleaning administrative 3 and 4 boundaries for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.  I also worked with the countries to approve the updated boundaries and databases.  These boundaries then served as a base for the geocoding of cases and allowed WHO to track transmission chains as the number of cases decreased.

Being deployed to assist in the Ebola response was difficult, stressful, ever changing and an amazing experience that I will never forget!  I learned so much, worked with wonderful people and watched as NGOs, governments, nonprofits and an assortment of other groups all worked under UNMEER to stop the Ebola outbreak.  Things did not always run smoothly with different operating structures, cultures and languages but everyone kept their eye on the goal of getting to zero cases.  One thing I learned was how important base data such as boundaries, roads, school locations and health clinic locations is during a response effort.  It is not the sexiest data to gather but in an emergency it is the base that everything is built upon.

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