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Open data under fire: The government didn’t act, so we did

No one had ever bothered to put together an easily accessible database of bomb shelters in Israel - until Operation Protective Edge
Israeli children sleeping in a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)
Israeli children sleeping in a bomb shelter in the southern city of Ashkelon (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

shelter map

Let me tell you the story of a unique, open and free database. A database that can literally saves lives. A national database that was built by the Israeli citizens themselves – for themselves.

I just wanted to do SOMETHING!

While being under fire during the latest Israel-Gaza conflict, Operation Protective Edge, hearing the sirens and watching the horrible news, I found myself wondering how I could use my developing knowledge for the benefits of my country.

I’m not a super-sophisticated-ninja developer, but I know my way through lines of code, by studying it myself.

Then, sitting and thinking I remembered that during the previous Israel-Gaza conflict, I’ve already build a web version of interactive map displaying all the shelters that can be found in the city of Tel-Aviv (you can play with it here). “Hey,” I said to myself (as I frequently talk to myself…), “Why don’t you build the same map, but for the whole country, and not just one city”.

“Wow! That’s a great idea,” I screamed. “Let’s do this!”.

The problem

While the city of Tel-Aviv published their municipal data to the general public (and this is how I was able to build TLV shelter map), I quickly noticed that all the other municipal authorities, except Tel-Aviv, decided not to publish their own data that includes, among others things, their shelter locations in a standard way that enables developers to use it for their apps.

What they actually did is to publish their shelters locations in different digital formats, like:

  • PDF
  • Word
  • Execl
  • PNG

Except for the Excel format, you can’t do anything with those files. Moreover, I found that some cities had not published those life-saving locations anywhere.

The solution

This situation really frustrated me, so I decided to try and fix this thing. While understating I can’t do this alone (too many cities, too many files), I tried to use the power of social networks to recruit more people who care and are willing to help – to extract the data from all those different digital formats into one standard open and free database that includes all the cities’ shelters locations.

Here is what I did:

  1. I opened a public Google spreadsheet.
  2. I used my social accounts and explained all my friends and followers the problem.
  3. I started working on that database, all by my myself.

…And then it happened

Suddenly, I noticed I wasn’t alone. After hundreds of shares of my status, people had started editing and building the database, adding more and more info to it.

Here is what we’ve accomplished:

  1. Almost 2,000 accurate locations of shelters in Israel.
  2. More than 30 cities were documented, as they didn’t publish their shelter info at all.
  3. During the work we got noticed that one app has already embedded our info, and another is on its way.
  4. The activity was covered by the leading Israeli news sites like HaaretzCalcalistand Ynet.

sheter database


We live in exciting times. We have so much power when it comes to data and technology. Don’t wait for the government, or your municipality. Sometimes the citizens themselves can take care of themselves.

For more real-time updates and insights about technology you can also follow me on Twitter: @Morad

About the Author
Morad Stern - Global Dev Communities Manager, Wix.com, academic lecturer, Google mentor.
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