Do you know which is the closest hospital to you right now? Do you know the exact location? Do you know what services they provide? Having this information at hand could be the difference between life and death even in the most “normal” settings.

healthsites.io is an initiative to create an online map of every health-care facility in the world, where users can easily access and update key information such as location and services. Co-founded by Mark Herringer, Tim Sutton and Dražen Odobašić, healthsites.io grew into a partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Hospital Federation (IHF), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Health Care in Danger Project and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.

The number of people affected by humanitarian crises around the world has nearly doubled in the past decade. More than 76 million people needed assistance in 2014, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In a situation of armed conflict, natural disaster or disease outbreak, knowing the location of the nearest health-care facilities is critical. Having this information can prevent valuable time from being wasted in responding to emergencies on the ground.

healthsites.io aims to become a reference point for health-care workers, aid agencies, government agencies and anyone for whom quick and easy access to such information is crucial. As an open data initiative, the information is freely available to everyone and everyone can contribute. People can sign in through Facebook or Twitter and easily add, update or share information. In addition, the site’s development process is transparent. This includes the project’s roadmap and live updates on its development status. It also allows for developers to discuss ideas and issues in real time on an open innovation chat space.

“healthsites.io is an open development initiative. Based on a bottom-up approach, it invites users to take ownership of information related to health-care facilities and support humanitarian organizations in addressing challenges,” said Mark Herringer, founder of healthsites.io.

“In today’s world, it may seem easy to locate health-care facilities anywhere across the globe. But in fact, past attempts to compile complete and accurate information were not always successful because the approach to obtain it was top-down and depended on the good will of health authorities. Also, information about private health-care facilities was often missing from those records,” explained Dr Eric de Roodenbeke, CEO of the International Hospital Federation.

“For our organization, healthsites.io represents an immense progress. Crowdsourcing offers so many new possibilities – not long ago, a reliable portal of this kind was unthinkable,” Dr Roodenbeke added.

healthsites.io focuses on the long-term continued curation and validation of data for a single domain, and then exchanges and shares data freely with other initiatives. In other words, it imports information from OpenStreetMap, invites users and humanitarian organizations to verify and improve the information, then pushes the information back to the OpenStreetMap project.

“The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team provides a bridge between OpenStreetMap and the more traditional humanitarian organizations. When the ICRC approached us to help build the project doing what we do best – working with open geodata, the OpenStreetMap community and building tools for the OpenStreetMap ecosystem – we were happy to join in,” the Vice President of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Blake Girardot, explained.

With an extensive network of delegations and volunteers, the ICRC and the broader Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement can tap into a large crowd of motivated contributors on the ground. Both the Movement and MSF are at the heart of where conflicts and disasters happen, right when they happen. Thus, connecting these local networks and the need to draw up accurate and up-to-date maps with the power of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap community of digital volunteers was a natural path to follow.

“I think this is a unique and important opportunity to advance the use of open geodata and have a massive positive impact on people on the ground who are at the centre of our work. A project like this does not come around very often,” said Mr Girardot.

As humanitarian emergencies and their impact spread at an unprecedented rate, response cannot lag behind. While new technologies offer a myriad of tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness in responding to emergencies, this alone is not enough. Cooperation is a key element of success.

Initiatives like healthsites.io bring together organizations with similar needs and allows them to combine – rather than duplicate – knowledge and efforts. “Cooperating with other organizations is one of the many benefits of this project. It is in itself an impact,” said Dr Bruce Eshaya-Chauvin, ICRC’s medical adviser to the Health Care in Danger project.

“We realize that, very often, people who should be talking to each other about common issues don’t necessarily meet or exchange their experiences. So, an initiative like mapping is an opportunity for people to find solutions together,” Dr Eshaya-Chauvin added.

You too can be a part of this initiative by joining healthsites.io here. All you need is your Facebook or Twitter account.