Almost Open Data

Note: this is Part II of a 2½ year old blog post … now HOW open is open?

Heavy weather in the Caribbean the last fortnight were a great opportunity to exercise citizen engagement in emergency situations.

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey posted on my blog concluded with:

This is not trivial: evacuation orders are often hard to grasp by residents, whose immediate concerns often mask the bigger picture where danger may come from. This exemplifies, therefore, how social media and accessible mapping interact for the better good.

Open vs. authoritative data

A presentation on Hurricane Irma submitted to the upcoming European Petroleum User Group, however contrasts two aspects:

West-Central Houston flooding after Hurricane Harvey
Harvey: social media + accessible mapping = helpful interaction
Hurricane Irma landfall on 10 Sep 2017
Irma: authoritative data + accessible maps = effective disaster response help

In the former, I used open data from Oasis Hub — it is however freely available only for personal or for disaster response use — on Medium too Sunlight Foundation shows Open Data is very much a big story in Houston post-Harvey. I posted it on with OasisHub data feed from WMS — web mapping services — as an openly accessible web map.

In the latter, I availed myself of NOAA data from Esri Disaster Response Program posted on but there is a catch: All of the data is US Fedeal NOAA “ licensed under the Esri Master License Agreement” and thus require an ArcGIS Online account to access. Now an “ArcGIS Public Account” is easy to set up freely, but it still has to be done and it stymies the sharing:

IBM once famously noted that waiting more than 10 sec. for an app response is too long. Likewise on the internet, each extra step needed runs the risk of users moving away.

[Note: OasisHub Irma data are from a different source and n/a on WMS.]

A workaround was for me to post on a simpler map documenting Irma’s landfall in Florida on 10 September. As the GOES satellite imagery was animated, I simply took hourly snapshots and strung them into a video posted on YouTube. This is the short version, the full version is here.

This way, users registered with Esri can view the full webmap, and those not can view the video. However, not only can registration be a hindrance as mentioned, but also how many will take the trouble to create a video of same?

Standards to the rescue

The price of Authoritative Data is to put it behind a portal, which is Esri’s business model. The Open Data camp however calls for direct access to data via, say, web mapping services.

First, therein lies the solution:

  • either use data “for public use” like the GOES satellite imagery
  • or use a web mapping service like Potential Storm Surge Flooding web mapping service options

Second, note the “OGC” qualifer for web mapping (WMS), map tile (WMTS) and feature (WFS) services above:

The Open Geospatial Consortium proposes a wide range of standards, precisely to corral the dizzying array of formats on the internet. It balances the desire for openness with the rigour of predictable data description and behaviour.


I’m a real fan of Earth, a real-time globe animation of the same data among others from @cambecc. I also recorded daily snaps of the various hurricanes sweeping the Caribbean, and will make them into a video also. Why? Because that data is available on github as a node.js… This inspired the header meme!


I made this video of the Earth visualisation, which you can also step back&forth through in the original here.

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