New Map on

It should be no surprise that we think about maps a lot here at Safecast. In fact, it’s probably one of the most frequent topics of conversation. Especially maps with a lot of data and especially making that data understandable. But more than understandable, it needs to be useful. Understanding what data a map is showing you is one thing, understanding what that data means is a whole other story. We noticed this again and again when talking about radiation mapping, even when we can get the data and put it together on a map, we still get asked “ok, so what does that mean? Am I safe?” Not an easy question to answer. Earlier this month we were talking about this and about how radiation is such a scary thing – seeing red on a map can make people panic. And maybe it should, but when you are just showing a spectrum it’s common to use green on one end and red on another so perhaps that isn’t the best way to convey this. So we started thinking.

gridRadiation is a very scary and foreign thing to talk about because it’s invisible and most people aren’t familiar with what measurements and doses even mean. We started thinking about how to put that in a context that with which people are more familiar. Lets talk about weather, temperature specifically. If you and I both know what the weather was like yesterday, and you ask me what it’s like today and I say it’s hotter – you instantly know what I mean. What if we could do that with radiation as well? On March 10th, before the earth quake, before the tsunami, before the meltdowns – no one was worried about radiation. Or at least, not worried about it being more than usual. So if we use that as a base line, and say radiation levels are either lower or equal to what they were on March 10th, or higher than they were on March 10th. That turns out to actually be useful info. So we started sketching out how a map showing that might look. The simple mock up on the upper left was the first concept art for that. There is no real data there, that is just a mock up image of an idea. White squares are unmapped, green squares represent that we’ve taken a reading that is the same or lower, black squares indicated readings with elevated levels. We’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out how to turn that into a reality.

safecastToday we launched the first version on our front page. It doesn’t do everything we want it to yet, but it’s a start. One of the main questions is what would that baseline be? That’s a difficult question because prior to this event there wasn’t a lot of data available. For now we’re using 35 CPM, that may change. We also want to allow you (the viewer) to change that and decide what you think the baseline should be. We also want to give you more data for each of those squares – how many elevated readings for example. We also want you to be able to zoom in and see a similar level of granularity along the way. But this is a first step and we’re really excited about the direction. We’d love to hear your feedback on it as well.

Another thing you may notice on the front page now is more attention to the drive maps and our new (and growing) static sensor network. These are going to be incredibly useful going forward for keeping track of levels and seeing changes.

About the Author

Sean Bonner


Sean Bonner is a co-founder and Global Director of Safecast. Based in Los Angeles, he's an Associate Researcher at the Center For Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab and a Shuttleworth Fellow.