Established Data Infrastructure Enables Local Governments to Meet Need During Natural Disasters & Health Emergencies

Lessons from previous crises

In the United States, both the health and economic effects of COVID-19 disproportionately impact low-income communities and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)1. This phenomenon isn’t new; during past crises and natural disasters, BIPOC have consistently faced greater rates of displacement and loss of material possessions. These disparities are consistent across natural disasters and regions. For example, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Harvey in 2017, residents living below the poverty line and identifying as BIPOC were more likely to live in neighborhoods that experienced flooding.

Balancing risks & benefits of data sharing

Like any tool, IDS can be misused and are not without risks. Legacies of racism in policy and planning have locked many low-income communities and BIPOC out of opportunities. BIPOC are also overrepresented in government datasets on public services. Broader, more expansive records, like birth records and DMV records, can be difficult to access, and are less frequently employed by data integration efforts in the U.S.

  • Is this linkage legal?
  • Is it ethical?
  • Is it a good idea?

The value of integrated data in times of crisis

In order to mitigate rather than compound inequities, approaches to crisis planning and recovery will need to use an interdisciplinary approach to holistically respond to need. Typically, efforts will do this in one of the following ways:

Building a strong foundation for data use before a crisis

Data integration efforts continue to refine the core elements of IDS as they mature. A practice of continuous improvement and engagement pays off in times of crisis when priorities rapidly change, and data access is necessary to inform life-saving decisions.

Using datasets with personal identifiers removed to map vulnerability, need & dispossession

CIDI Maps Vulnerability During COVID-19

Using datasets that include identifiable information for risk assessment & resource allocation

King County, Washington Uses Data to Aid in Isolation & Quarantine Decision-Making

The future of IDS & crisis response

As the climate crisis and a multitude of health emergencies proliferate, jurisdictions across the U.S. with established integrated data capacity and strong vertical and horizontal communication pathways will continue to benefit from more nimble crisis response. Capacity is not measured soley in technical sophistication of data infrastructure; rather, it requires strategic partnerships across agencies and collaboratively-created processes to securely share data and turn findings into action. Investment in these key elements of data-driven collaboration prior to an emergency is essential to an effective response that mitigates rather than exacerbates inequalities.



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Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP)

Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP)

At AISP, we help state and local governments collaborate and responsibly use data to improve lives.