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Summary:

Rice University researchers have built a web-based calculator that predicts the risks associated with hurricanes for an address. The tool uses historial and meteorological data to generate a risk profile for residents of Houston. This is what big data tools should do — offer users actionable intelligence.

risk

Rice University researchers have built a web-based calculator that predicts the risks associated with hurricanes for a specific address in Houston. The tool uses historical and meteorological data to generate a risk profile for residents of the city in real-time (hat tip Discovery News). As a former Houston resident who has lived through several hurricanes, this is a pretty nifty combination of a variety of data sources into a tool that helps regular people makes decisions.

The tool, which is limited to Harris County, was inspired by the mass evacuations that occurred during Hurricane Rita in 2005. Millions of Houstonians fled the storm and blocked major roadways. Not all of those who left needed too, but absent hard data it’s hard to know what to do if you’re reading about a Category 5 storm heading your way.

For those who stayed, understanding their risk of power failure or wind damage might help them prepare for the storm in ways they may not have otherwise. That’s why I like this calculator and project so much. It takes quantifiable elements such as weather, geographic and historical flood plan information and analyzes it with some algorithm or algorithms (hopefully it’s open so others can improve upon it) and delivers actionable information in a format that people can relate to.

This to me is the promise of big data — and something that more and more data nerds should focus on. The end result of all the data crunching isn’t a spreadsheet or even a table. It’s a decision, be it a manager asking themselves if they should stock more ice cream this July or a citizen wondering if they should evacuate before an oncoming storm. Data — even prettied into a chart — isn’t what most people are after. They just want to know what they should do.

  1. Edwin Ritter Monday, June 11, 2012

    Reblogged this on Ritter's Ruminations & Ramblings and commented:
    Here’s one way to put big data to good use – saving lives. Collecting, managing and making decisions off that information in real time to assess risk profiles and when to take shelter.

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  2. Shaleen Shah Monday, June 11, 2012

    I believe that we will see the rise of data scientists as businesses and organizations start to embrace the idea of big data. I love the practical use that you cited here, where data can be that thin line between life and death, not just a mere driver of business intelligence and predictive analytics model.

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