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Project of the Week #9: Planetary Response Network - Caribbean Storms

This week we turn to the very urgent subject of disaster relief. This week's project, therefore, is short term, though may reappear every so often in response to other serious natural disasters.

What does this project do?
Several organisations - Zooniverse, Rescue Global, Tomnod and Humanitarian Open Street Map - are collaborating to generate maps of areas devastated by the recent hurricanes Irma and Maria in the Caribbean in order that emergency aid organisations can plan where to focus their resources. This collaboration is the Planetary Response Network.

What do I have to do?
You can try out any of the links above - each will have its own tutorial (here is Tomnod's, for example) - but this post will focus on Zooniverse, which is bringing elements of all of them together. If you have a Zooniverse account already, log into that. Go to, click "See All Projects", and choose the Climate category. If you do not yet have a Zooniverse account, click "Register" at the top right. Pick a public username and enter your password and email address; you'll need to wait to receive an activation email - then you can try out any of their projects.

At the Planetary Response Network project page (which activates whenever Zooniverse is able to help after a natural disaster), click "get started" and follow a short tutorial. This will explain how the "before" and "after" images work: you can toggle between them at the bottom to make an initial assessment of how many buildings you see in the "before" image, followed by road blockages, temporary settlements (displaced people!), structural damage or floods you see in the "after" image.

To record damage, you will need to click on the "After" image and you will be asked about the type and extent. If you are not sure, you can make a guess - many people see each image - and also look on the Talk page for help.

If you get a message that all data has currently been collected, please wait for another upload of data or give one of the other three projects listed above a try!

Where can I find out more?
Blog: the Zooniverse responds to the Caribbean hurricanes of 2017
The About and Research page
If you're on Twitter, @Vrooje or Brooke Simmons, who is running this project
About Rescue Global
Tomnod FAQ

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is our regular feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details
The Talk pages of the Zooniverse show some extremely rapid changes in what we know and what we prioritise. On September 21st, Brooke announced a new dataset for Antigua and Barbuda; by the next day, it was clear that Dominica and Puerto Rico were in desperate need of help, so the former dataset was paused.

The Planetary Response Network was last activated after the devastating earthquake in Nepal. Then, as now, a great many organisations - satellite companies, machine learning researchers, various NGOs, and of course citizen scientists - joined forces to help. The images this time round are coming from Crowd4Sat.

The classifications by the Zooniverse volunteers (nicknamed "Zooites" in the early days) are used to build up a "heat map" to show the areas with the most damage recorded. This is then used by Rescue Global to prioritise where to send resources. Rescue Global's latest news on the situation is here. Tomnod's role is to incorporate smaller islands, while Open Street Map combines the "heat map" with its own mapping data.

Hurricane Maria is the tenth most intense hurricane ever to strike the Atlantic Ocean.

Citizen science is increasingly popular as a tool for helping assess and respond to natural disasters: this has been written about at PLOS, the IIASA, Nature and the Huffington Post - to name a few. This is a strength of large numbers of people being able to join these projects in a very short time. It is also being studied academically from China to Ecuador by scientists worldwide.