When hurricane Patricia made landfall near Cuixmala, Mexico, on the evening of October 23, 2015, it had already intensified to a Category 5. Over the course of the day, meteorologists had watched with disbelief as the storm grew from a common tropical storm to a monster with winds of up to 320 km/hour and sustained winds of 265 km/hour. Hurricane Patricia would go on to become the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. While scientists were scratching their heads, attempting to understand the storm’s explosive escalation, people on the ground, not just in Mexico but around the world, were piecing together a real-time puzzle that would identify the storm’s path and mobilise all the resources possible to keep populations out of harm’s way. Using openly available data sources, critical information from a myriad of sources were interlinked, including demographics, health facility locations, power infrastructure, road networks, airports, topography—combined with steady updates from international organizations regarding the hurricane’s location, path and speed. Armed with 38 sets of critical databases, some 400 global volunteers mapped 9 thousand kilometres of roads and 90 thousand buildings and hotels and potential mudslide zones, providing over one million people vital information in real time.
This is just one dramatic, real-life example of how open data can improve—and even save—lives