Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Now accepting corrections.

I am now accepting corrections to Map the Fallen. You can either:
1. Click on "Request a correction" above their photo in Google Earth
2. Visit the Corrections Form and look a person up by last name.


Please be patient. Volunteers must verify all the information you submit, and your authority to do so. Thanks!

(9 answered so far).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Map the Fallen launched!


For the past two years I've been working on the Google Earth Outreach team, aimed at helping non-profits and public benefit groups use Google Earth and Google Maps to further their cause. In that time I've worked on so many cool projects, from training indigenous communities in Brazil on the use of internet and mapping technologies, to helping with Google's disaster response mapping efforts for the San Diego fires and Cyclone Nargis, to even working with NASA to get a copy of Google Earth on the International Space Station (more on that later!). I'm also in charge of the Global Awareness layers in Google Earth and helped develop and polish many of those projects, including Crisis in Darfur and Appalachian Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining.

This Memorial Day I would like to share with you a personal project of mine that uses Google Earth to honor the more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women that have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died.

This work first began while I was a graduate student in Environmental Science at U.C. Riverside. While teaching myself how to use Google Earth for a research project visualizing sensor networks, I came across the icasualties.org website. Immediately drawn into the stories of the members of the military that had died up to October 2005, I decided to try mapping each of their hometowns. I posted my U.S. & Coalition Casualties map to the Google Earth Community. Fast-forward to 2007: my thesis work on visualizing sensor networks in Google Earth and my personal mapping projects landed me a job at Google.

Google Earth has come a long way since late 2005 when I first started using it: a few of these improvements include time animation, "regionation" for efficiently displaying thousands of points on the map, and Touring, which enables you to record your flightpath and narration to guide your audience through your content. I'm sure many of you have heard of Google's 20% time program, where engineers can work the equivalent of a day a week on a project of their choosing. I decided last year that it was time to revisit my casualties mapping project, and have since spent some of my 20% time (as well as a healthy dose my own personal time) rebuilding the map to use these new features.

For this project I collected information from a number of sources, including the Department of Defense's Statistical Information Analysis Division, icasualties.org, MilitaryTimes.com's Honor the Fallen, Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen, the Iraq and Afghanistan Pages, and Legacy.com. I used the Google Maps and GeoNames.org geocoding services to get coordinates for each person's home of record and approximate place of death. The map includes data through March 2009. I'd like to point out the incredible time commitment the above organizations invest in maintaining this information; as I've learned, it is not an easy task. All of the data I have assembled and generated for this project will be made freely available for download in the near future.

During this project, I have sought the advice and perspectives of several groups directly tied to these losses, including Gold Star families, veterans' groups, active-duty servicemen and women, and leadership in the United States Army. I've done my best to incorporate their feedback and suggestions in creating something that pays tribute to the memory and service of these fallen heroes. Out of respect for the families of those people on this map who have taken their own lives, I have chosen to describe these deaths as coming from "non-combat" related causes. This is a broad category used by the Department of Defense to define other causes of death resulting from accidents or illness.

I recognize that this map is just a slice of the story in these conflicts. The Iraqi and Afghan people have incurred substantial civilian losses through these wars; there are also U.S. and Coalition civilians, contractors, and reporters who have died as well. For this project, I've chosen to focus on the U.S. and Coalition military casualties, but I recognize that the losses extend beyond what is mapped in this project. I also understand that there could be inaccuracies in this layer, and I'll be adding a method for submitting corrections very shortly.

So please take a look at this map, and explore the stories of heroism and sacrifice made across this nation and across the world. Although this map only shows the hometowns and places of death for these soldiers, it's important to remember that each of these servicemen and women have a rich story in between, which leads me to something a Gold Star mom recently shared with me:

"There'll be two dates on your tombstone
And all your friends will read 'em
But all that's gonna matter is that little dash between 'em..."


Sean Askay

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mistakes with incident descriptions

Moved to this Google Sites page: Mistakes with Incident Descriptions. People were missing the original post above when this was at the top of the list. This relates to an already fixed problem where some people's incident descriptions were erroneusly reported as "Died of a non-combat related injury."