July 2012, Geneva, Switzerland - The project ‘Map Your School’, a joint initiative between UNOSAT, UNICEF and the Panamanian Government has moved to the next stage in its development, as it begins a pilot test phase in the Escuela Puerto Rico, in Panama City, Panama. Initial feedback has been very good “The children understood very well how to use the platform, with no previous guidance on how to use it!“ exclaimed Heidi Peugeot, a Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Specialist and the UNICEF focal point for the Map Your School project.

Map Your School is an online platform allowing children to enter information about hazards and resources in and around their schools and community, this information is then displayed on an overview map allowing people to at a glance visualise hazards in the neighbourhood and to see quick guidance on how best to mitigate them, or areas to avoid. Incorporating satellite imagery into this process results in an intuitive interface that we expect will help to raise awareness in the local communities.

Teachers and School Administrators can enter information about the schools and students into the system to manage safety training by keeping track of previous simulations and disasters and how the school was affected, or to enter details about who to contact in case of emergencies. The platform also integrates data from various sources and from UNOSAT itself with the aim of visualising areas most at risk, and to assess the best course of action in case of emergency.

The Map Your School platform also helps to raise awareness of risk reduction strategies by linking to external resources including other initiatives by UNICEF, the Panamanian Government and other institutions. For example disaster risks reduction themed online games for students and guidelines for risk reduction strategies for teachers.

 The Map Your School Platform is the initial application of a flexible concept being developed at UNOSAT to enable community-level mapping and GIS by using freely available resources to allow communities to collectively contribute to raising awareness and improving synergies within their local areas about matters of common interest. The initiative is part of UNOSAT efforts to meet beneficiaries’ needs in the strategic area of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Since 2010 country-based initiatives have been successfully held in South-East Asia while work in Africa is planned to begin in the fall of 2012.

Plans for the Map Your School project include expanding the pilot project to cover more schools, improving the system based on feedback, and continuing to work towards improving the safety of communities in high risk areas of South America who may not have access to full scale GIS tools and methods.

Images courtesy of UNICEF Panama/ Janibeth Miranda