New York City moves to apply predictive data analytics to preventing fires

“The total embedding of analytics in New York City has just really passed the tipping point,” related Michael Flowers, in an email last week. Flowers, the Big Apple’s first “chief analytics officer, discussed how predictive data analytics were saving lives and taxpayer dollars with me last year. In the months since, he has continued to apply data science to regulatory data in the public sector. The work of “Mayor Bloomberg’s Geek Squad” finally drew major media notice in March, when the New York Times featured their accomplishments.

Last week, New York City went further into its data-driven future when it announced plans to reduce deaths from fires by applying new risk-based fire inspection system. Essentially, NYC is applying the same predictive data analytics to assess and prioritize the buildings that firefighters inspect every year.

“Uniformed firefighters currently perform 50,000 full-building fire safety inspections every year and until now, fire officers had very limited information about how to prioritize buildings for inspection in the districts they protect,” said Mayor Bloomberg, in a statement. “Our new system changes that. Drawing on building information from many sources, the Risk Based Inspection System enables fire companies to prioritize the buildings that pose the greatest fire risk—and that means we’ll stop more fires before they can start.”

Instead of cyclical inspections, the new NYC Fire Department system “tracks, scores, prioritizes, and then automatically schedules a building for inspection.”

While this kind of algorithmic regulation may send off warning bells in some observers, the use of such technology to score risk and, crucially, send trained human beings to investigate.

Flowers pointed out other areas where this kind of complementary action matter.

“To me, the Hurricane Sandy Administration Action Plan released [last week] is the most powerful expression of what’s happened here in the last 18 months or so,” he said. “We essentially served as the primary intelligence center for Sandy response and recovery. It speaks to things we are doing internally or externally with regards to data leveraging, synthesis, analysis and sharing to get to the most critical need the fastest. It shows how quickly we’ve rooted the concept into how the city does business.”

New Yorkers should expect more of this approach to governance in the future — and to gain more insight as the city’s developers and media analyze datasets released to the public.

“Up next is to roll out of the platform to the rest of the city, pushing all this data dynamically to the open data portal,” related Flowers, “which itself is being redone to reflect curated data, a development portal, and risk-based resource allocation over the Departments of Buildings, Fire, Finance, Housing and a few others.”

In the video below, recorded at the Strata Conference in NYC last year, Flowers talks more about his work.

One thought on “New York City moves to apply predictive data analytics to preventing fires

  1. Pingback: New York City crime data shows sharp spike in NYPD response times to 911 | E Pluribus Unum

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