Map Critique

For the map critique assignment, I chose a disaster map, the Radio Distress Signalling and Infocommunications’ Emergency Disaster and Information Service map. Initially, it reminded me of URT, with its pop up bubbles that explain the highlighted point on the map. Additionally, I felt a strong connection to this map because much like my difficulties with my own project, RSOE similarly doesn’t seem able to properly contextualize or use the map as a digital format; the icons and the information on RSOE act as the priority above the exploring what the digitality of the map might be like. In certain ways, this project could work without the map at all.

This is a Hungarian project and although it’s available in 52 languages, it is unclear exactly who or what the group is that’s responsible for the site. It is officially the National Association of Radio Distress-Signaling and Infocommunications, and it seems like among the stated “mission” the goals include the “safeguarding” of the “natural and built environment” using “global navigation satellite system (GNSS) and GIS “especially in the field of inland navigation and disaster management. Further, goals include supporting “European integration and cohesion.”  The site has no advertisements, and it does not seem to invite information from individuals, but claims to work in total conjunction with government agencies and the information they receive from those various agencies. (As it tells us in its Introduction, “it constantly supports the work of the governmental sphere.”) There is no significant FAQ or contact page, and the Press Room page is entirely in Hungarian.

The map does not do a good job of defining the type of disaster map it will be. Is it a global natural disaster map or a map of all global disasters? While exploring the various categories of disaster (biology, technology, meteorology, geology, complex, environmental, non-categorized and civilization) I found that the complex and the civilization categories include humanitarian crises and terror attacks, respectively.  But there is no icon on Somalia where famine is widespread and widely reported on, nor is there an icon anywhere near Sudan. This issue brings up two major questions and problems with this map; if it is not just a natural disaster map, that’s fine (it’s also fine if it is confined to natural disasters) but it can’t be both and then leave such glaring gaps in recounting the information we go there to receive. Secondly, if this map is about anything, it is about icons. There are icons for everything (I mean everything. There is a specific icon for “attack by bee” or “jellyfish invasion” http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/icons.php) so if there is not an icon for famine, war, genocide, but just a vague icon entitled “complex” (which is pictorially the same icon used for coral bleaching, non-categorized events and a few other things) then this reveals a serious lack of information and organization.

It further reveals the inability of this digital map to act like a digital map. The reliance on static, yield-shaped signs (which aren’t done well with all the repetitions) really ignores the capabilities of digitalization. In this way, the James Corner reading “The Agency of Mapping” became applicable. When he compares the Mercator’s map to Fuller’s Dymaxion map, he explains that different arrangements of the Dymaxion map “potentially…possess great efficacy with regard to certain socio-political, strategic and imaginative possibilities.” (Corner, 218.)This same idea can be applied to the inadequacies of the RSOE map. Although Corner is speaking about a physical arrangement of the Dymaxion map, the digital map has similar creative capabilities and the RSOE map does not try to explore them.  The ROSE map traces more than maps. (Corner, 213.)

As I began learning more about the website, I became a bit disenchanted with it. I couldn’t imagine how a global disaster map, that uses only information gleaned in cooperation with government agencies, could have as much value as other similarly themed maps which are interactive and cooperative with human rights organizations, etc.  But as I began to search different countries I found an interesting tendency. In a “situation update” on an “epidemic hazard” in India, the text reads “New cases of hantavirus are being reported from various parts of the state but the health department in Andhra Pradesh seems to still be in denial mode.” As the update continues, it explains what is happening to the people for whom this disease is striking, and regardless of the information being told to them by that particular government “in denial” they seem to have other sources that they trust. But who are these other sources? Nowhere on the website could I find any information about who else contributes to the website, who the people are who write these updates or who they go to for information when they doubt the governments they tell us on the “about” page they rely on and work with.  When exploring the “media” section on the Thai floods page, I found a series of pictures of people trapped in the floods. (http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/site/?pageid=event_photo&edis_id=FL-20111005-32556-THA) But where did they get those pictures from; where these pictures off the AP wire; did people send them in somehow? (Apparently they comb unnamed “internet press publications” for the rest of the information they gather. http://hisz.rsoe.hu/alertmap/read/index.php?pageid=about_index)

The problems with and general questions about the map and its creators can easily overshadow the value of the map itself. Possibly in Hungarian, many of these questions are easy to find and easy to answer. (Although a Google search yielded very little.) There is still a wealth of information on this map, but it desperately needs help becoming a proper digital map.

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