5 Ways Big Data Can Save Your Life

Insights pulled from vast amounts of public, web, social media, sensor, and surveillance data help people make better, more focused decisions. Better decisions are particularly important when meant to prevent or reduce the risks of crime, natural disasters, or disease.

Here are five ways big data can save your life:

1. Big data can measure hurricane risk. A hurricane risk calculator combining National Weather Service and historic data can predict the risk of hurricane damage at the neighborhood level. Currently deployed in Houston, Texas, the calculator predicts wind damage, flooding, and the likelihood of power outages.  People who are not under evacuation order can use the calculator to decide where and whether to shelter or evacuate based on risk. When people from low and no-risk neighborhoods know about the safety of sheltering in place, they’re less likely to evacuate unnecessarily. As a result, highways are less congested, so people from high-risk areas can drive to safety.

2. Big data from laptops predicts earthquakes. Stanford’s Quake-Catcher Network turns regular people and their laptops into an earthquake monitoring system. By using the accelerometers built-in to laptops for drop protection, Quake-Catcher Network collects data to provide early warnings to emergency response when earthquakes start. Besides speeding up response, the quake-catcher network is more location-specific and vastly cheaper than seismographs—laptop sensors are free and desktops can be outfitted in ten minutes for fifty dollars.

3. Big data speeds disease detection and response, which reduces the number of people affected and the number of deaths. Big data can be used to sense the health of people in particular areas. For example, Google can predict a flu outbreak two weeks earlier than public health officials by using data from search queries. Ginger.io can predict disease outbreaks through mobile phone usage patterns. This means that healthcare and first responders can target their responses better, and act more quickly to contain and treat an outbreak.

4. Big data puts officers in between likely targets and bad guys by enabling predictive policing. Police can use public data to predict the location and time that crimes are likely to occur, so they can focus their intervention efforts. A mash-up of data sets related to foreclosure, school schedules, past crimes, and (less obviously) bus schedules, library visits, and weather conditions can be used to predict where crimes are likely to occur. Police use the output information to deploy patrols in the right places.

5. Big data can (arguably) thwart terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security tested the controversial Future Attribute Screening Technology, called FAST, in April 2012. FAST is meant to detect  “malintent,” DHS shorthand for “intention to cause harm,” by measuring physiological indicators and behavioral clues like body language, eye movements, temperature, facial expressions, and heart rate to identify terrorists before they have a chance to act.

Stay tuned for more ways big data can save your life.

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