Visualizing Risk: making sense of collaborative disaster mapping

Katrina Petersen


This paper examines the relationship between collaborative disaster mapping and conceptions of risk. It looks at improvised mapmaking during the 2007 wildfires in Southern California to identify and analyze social and technological issues in creating a shared understanding through collaboration. By comparing and contrasting two different, yet intertwined, mapping practices this paper focuses on how the distribution of social and technological actors change how risk, threat, and uncertainty are approached. One, more centralized mapmaking collaboration produced risks related to managing authority and security. The other, more distributed collaboration, produced risks related to public trust and safety. This paper argues that map-making is characterized as a messy, distributed network of knowledge production in which the meaning of risk emerges through the unplanned collaborations that evolve as those involved work to make sense of the wildfires, not as an a-priori definition.

Download full article