Data is an increasingly important tool to improve city services. Among a city’s most challenging responsibilities is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to emergencies and crises. Several recent advances in technology have made it possible for cities to better manage their preparedness and response through improved public health and emergency medicine systems, critical examples of how data and analytics can be used to enhance city operations.
As public health increasingly enters the conversation about critical global challenges, new technologies have emerged to improve well-coordinated responses to emerging health crises. Globally, the case for much needed “epidemic intelligence” has become clear in recent years with the Ebola outbreak and even in recent months with the outbreak of the Zika virus, declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO). For local authorities and decision makers, this type of intelligence includes real-time alert systems, rapid response surveillance, and mobile data collection and geolocation to improve the disease surveillance necessary to curb the spread of these types of major viruses.
Even in non-emergency situations, access to data can be an incredibly useful tool to help state and city officials understand the particular health challenges facing their communities. Health databases such as Healthy People 2020, from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), operated by the Centers for Disease Control; or County Health Rankings, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, all help public health officials and city leaders to understand how their counties or cities compare against others with regard to key health indicators ranging from cancer rates to access to primary care. More localized databases include the Big Cities Health Inventory, organized by the National Association of County & City Health Officials with funding from the CDC and support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the de Beaumont Foundation, compiling data from 26 major American cities on indicators such as behavioral health, food safety, and HIV/AIDS rates. The availability of this type of data is critical to enable communities to perform needs assessments and determine specific areas of focus for evidence-based public health campaigns or interventions.
At the local level, many officials acknowledge the need to better monitor and understand health trends and threats in their communities, whether imminent or otherwise. FirstWatch is one example of a platform that enables city managers or public health departments to monitor multiple data sources (911, EMS, fire, law enforcement, and public health) simultaneously to track trends and predict potential public health issues. Given the sheer amount of information the platform relies on, a city may use FirstWatch for any issue requiring coordination from multiple offices, such as alerting authorities about a major sporting event where large crowds are expected.
More specifically related to public health, the platform can help in ways such as cluing leaders into an impending local flu outbreak by linking public health data with emergency room visits. Authorities in Reno, NV used FirstWatch’s tracking technology to bring agencies together to better prepare for expected drug related incidents and overdoses when a prescription drug ring was broken up by police, setting off a wave of preparations for medical professionals and first responders. In another example, authorities in Louisville, KY have leveraged digital health technology to address the city’s extremely high rates of asthma, among the worst in the nation.