Connecting communities to resources during COVID-19

By Raleigh Seamster, Senior Program Manager, Google Earth Outreach

During COVID-19, communities across the world are in search of resources to keep families fed, ensure essential workers have child care so they can do their jobs, practice safe hygiene, and even keep up morale during quarantine. State and local governments and even private citizens have been using maps to make it easy for people to find the things they need, in their neighborhoods. In this post, we’ll share some examples with you. If you want to create something similar for your community, we’ll show you how.

Creating a simple map from scratch

The Los Angeles Unified School District is making sure that students know where the closest Grab & Go Food Center is. With the district’s Grab & Go Food Centers map, students have continued access to nutritious meals during school closures.

LAUSD students can access a nutritious meal by using the Grab & Go Food Centers map.

To make a similar map, simply go to mymaps.google.com, log in to your Google account, and click the “Create a new map” button. Add local organizations, centers, or businesses that are providing relief to your community by searching for them and add them to your My Map by clicking “Add to map” on the search results. To add information about the services the place is offering, click on its placemark and select the edit button (the pencil) to add text to the description box.

The custom maps you create with My Maps are by default private to you and can only be accessed with your Google account, unless you take explicit action to share viewing or edit privileges with others. We’ll talk more about sharing at the end of this post.

Creating a map from a spreadsheet

The Child Nutrition Outreach Program in Massachusetts is also helping families find sites that are serving meals for students during school closures. That information is made available to communities in a spreadsheet as well as on a map.

Massachusetts’s Child Nutrition Outreach Program is helping families find meals during school closures.

If you already have a list of local organizations, centers, or businesses that would be helpful to your community during COVID-19, you don’t need to add them one-by-one to a map. You can quickly convert your spreadsheet into an interactive map.

First, make sure your spreadsheet contains one or more columns of location information (i.e., street addresses, or latitude and longitude). Create a blank My Map (see above) and instead of searching for places to add, click “Import” in the upper left-hand panel. You can pull in a spreadsheet from Google Drive or upload a CSV or XLSX file from your computer. You’ll be prompted to indicate which column or columns in your spreadsheet contain the locations, and then which column you’d like to use to name your placemarks. Once you click “Finish,” your placemarks should appear on your map right away. If you click on a placemark, all the information about that place in your spreadsheet should be displayed in the infowindow.

Make your map easier to understand

The Wyoming Department of Human Services is helping essential workers find licensed childcare centers that are still operating during the crisis. Using their map, you can quickly see which centers are open for currently enrolled children of essential workers only (blue markers) and centers that are accepting new children (green markers).

Essential workers in Wyoming can use the Wyoming Department of Health Service’s My Map to find licensed child care centers.

To change the color and symbols of your placemarks, you can click on the placemark, and then click the “Style button” in the infowindow (the paint can) to see your color and symbol options. Click “More Icons” to see almost 400 icon options. You can also get to the icon palette by hovering your mouse over the placemark’s name in the left-hand panel and clicking on the paint can.

You can explore more advanced options for styling your placemarks if you click on “Individual styles” in the left-hand panel. Try grouping by uniform style if you want to change all the placemarks at once. If you imported your information from a spreadsheet and you want your placemarks to be styled based on the information in a column, you can choose to style by data column. For example, in the Wyoming Child Care map, the placemarks were colored green or blue based on whether there was a “yes” or “no” in the “Taking new kids?” data column.

You can also use your own art for placemark icons, like in this map created so neighbors could share sourdough starters with each other for bread baking during quarantine. To use your own placemark art, just click on “More icons” for the full icon palette, then the “Custom Icon” button to upload your own image files.

Share your map with your community

The Delaware Government Division of Small Business is helping people find and patronize local businesses that are safely providing goods and services during the COVID-19 outbreak. The agency has created and shared an interactive map of local businesses directly on its website. In fact, many of the above maps can be found embedded in state and local government webpages that are providing COVID-19 information and resources.

Once you’re ready to share your map, you can see what it will look like to your viewers by clicking “Preview” in the left-hand panel. Click the “Share” button to give others the ability to see or edit your map (remember, until now the map has been private only to you).

If you haven’t already, add a title and description for your map. A good description might include some information about who created the map, what it should be used for, when it was last updated, and maybe even a way for viewers to get in touch with you if they want to suggest updates to the map.

You’ll then be able to change your sharing settings. You can share your map with a limited group of individuals, set it so anyone with the link can view, or make it public on the web (which makes it searchable on Google and other search engines). Now you can grab and share the link to your map with others.

If you’d like to embed the map on your website, click the overflow menu on the left-hand panel and select “Embed on my site” for an HTML code snippet that you can easily copy and paste into your website.

Learn more

We hope these examples provided some inspiration and practical instructions for how you might connect your community with helpful resources using a custom map. If you’d like to dig deeper into My Maps, please check out the My Maps help center or this in-depth tutorial.

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