How Big Data is Keeping Your Communities Safe

Who does your community include? Is it your family, or your neighborhood, or maybe your entire city? No matter what you consider your community, you probably want it to be as safe as it can be. Recently, practitioners have turned to opening up state, local, and federal data and utilizing GIS technology in an effort to enhance community safety.

To learn more about how the open data and GIS collaboration is helping communities, Denice Ross, Senior Advisor for Community Solutions at the White House Office of Management and Budget and Mike Donnelly, Program Lead at the HIFLD Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) joined GovLoop for a Safe Communities meetup.

Open Data for the Country

DHS’s Homeland Infrastructure Foundation-Level Data Program (HIFLD) tackles open data on the national level. Donnelly explained that this program publishes the best available data to give context to what is going on in the nation. That allows decision makers to access the data and make well informed, data-driven decisions. Examples of data sets include mass casualty events, locations of gas alternative fueling stations, and solid waste landfill facilities.

HIFLD contains 565 data sets in total, with 275 of these data sets contain unclassified materials. After the program was first launched, practitioners were able to access this data but the processes to do so were cumbersome. Donnelly explained, “We wanted to get this data to the boots on the ground so they could use it to effect change, however the model we were using to do this was prohibitive and broken.”

Previously, practitioners who wanted to access DHS data would have to go through approval processes and wait for a DVD of the data to be shipped to them. That time consuming process illuminated two main goals for HIFLD data: make non-classified data sets accessible and continue securing sensitive data while making it available to those who can access it.

HIFLD Open is the answer to the first objective. This user-friendly platform gives the public free access to the 275 non-classified data sets as well as the capability to utilize visualization tools and look at metrics from the data. Donnelly emphasized that HIFLD Open has been largely successful thus far as, “9,000 users have accessed the platform with over 40% of users returning to access more data.” HIFLD Open enables practitioners to access the data they need in order to make better informed, national decisions.

HIFLD Secure allows for the continued protection of classified data. Similar to HIFLD Open, HIFLD Secure is a platform that allows instant access to data. Donnelly explained that the Geospatial Information Infrastructure is a DHS foundation for collaborative environments that allows those with sufficient clearance to make an account an access HIFLD Secure. Users with access to HIFLD Secure can also integrate data from HIFLD Open with GIS to gain a fuller picture of the environment they are studying.

Open Data for State and Local

On the state and local side, the White House is working on opening police data to the public. The overall goal of this effort is to use data and technology to build trust and create a community of practice around open police data. In order to do this, the White House brought together GIS experts, public sector CTO’s, IT personnel, and local law enforcement to start the collaboration process that would eventually open up police data to the public.

This collaboration led to the White House Police Data Initiative being formally announced in 2015. In order to be a partner in the initiative, local police departments commit to releasing three data sets about policing and community interaction, participate in 30 minute bi-weekly phone calls, and obtain city-wide buy in from law enforcement, the mayor’s office, and IT leadership.

Currently there are 63 participating jurisdictions and 150 data sets have been released. The available data sets are very locally driven and include employee demographics, officer involved shootings, use of force incidents, community engagement, assaults on officers, and body and dashboard camera metadata. However, the real potential for the program lies in using the data to engage the public. It is critical that conversations are fostered between community and city tech staff to best utilize the data once it is available.

Ultimately, the success of national, state, and local open data projects rests on partnerships and community involvement. By utilizing open data to make cities smarter, practitioners can eventually make communities safer. Whether you’re a GIS manager, a police chief, or a member of the community, you have the ability to participate in open data initiatives to optimize your community.


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