June 16, 2017
Tara McGuinness wrote for US News about how data can help cities prevent fires, and fix other public problems.
The likelihood you'll die in a house fire is predictable. If you are poor, living in older housing stock, in close proximity to vacant homes or a non-native English speaker, you are more likely to perish that way, according to studies. Fire doesn't strike equally. And the horrible scene of Grenfell Tower burning in London this week is the latest extreme reminder that house fire deaths are preventable.
Just take New Orleans, where after another tragic fire in Broadmoor in 2014 killed children, a mom and seniors, the city's Office of Performance and Accountability built an algorithm, using data to identify the blocks that are most at risk for fire fatalities and help expedite smoke detector distribution by the fire department. (Most cities do these by request or at random.) This intervention has saved lives.
Just as data can help us understand patterns of inequity presenting across the country and globe in everything from house fires to mortality rates, used wisely, it can also be part of fixing them. To that end, a new cadre of leaders, organizations and businesses is using data, technology and management tools to save lives, engage citizens in their own futures and improve how tax dollars are used.