During an emergency, accurate information about the types of equipment and personnel needed on-scene can save lives. Policymakers rely on past incident data to inform critical decisions on resource allocation, but the extreme variability of these data sets often forces them to base their judgments on an incomplete picture of overall trends.
Information on the use of emergency services resources is often distributed across several distinct systems, presenting a major obstacle to big data analysis.
Arlington County and SDAL have forged a relationship to liberate and repurpose existing municipal and external data sources to support the community through data-informed policy development. By utilizing local administrative data combined with state and federal data, blogs and social media, and commercial data, a community can translate their values into action and solve problems of importance. Our first project to realize Arlington County's vision of public safety began with an analysis of fire and EMS data.
To re-create emergency incidents out of time- and location-specific information, several heterogeneous data streams must be linked. Leveraging the full range of available data required the SDAL team to develop analytical methods that could account for significant variations in source, accessibility, structure, and informational bias. In exploring the viability of external data sources such as social media, we are developing a process for working with local communities.
By linking these data and mapping them geographically, policymakers can increase the situational awareness of firefighters and EMS personnel. The rhythm of the county emerges as these data are a surrogate for identifying the flow of people through the county over the course of an average day, month, or season.
A comprehensive data analysis revealed that some of the largest demands on public safety resources are coming from vulnerable regions of Arlington County, where concentrated populations of individuals rely on 911 calls to address a wide variety of non-emergency concerns.
SDAL's analyses identified "loyal locations" throughout Arlington County which made frequent use of emergency services resources.
This finding allowed officials to hire a nurse practitioner to work with these vulnerable populations, teaching them to access a full range of municipal services and allowing emergency response resources to be directed to areas where they are needed most.
Our findings have also laid the foundation for a broader collaboration with fire departments throughout Virginia and California to develop a new data science portal that will improve the health and safety of first responders.