In the business world, the words ‘big data’ have almost become synonymous with business intelligence. But as companies and entrepreneurs scurry to find ways to harness all that potential for profits, an Albuquerque start-up called Resilient Solutions 21 is layering data into new applications that could also have broad implications for public safety and social and economic change.
Imagine first responders being able click on a button to see a 3-D map of their town with accurate predictive models of how flooding from a hurricane or swamped rivers would flow into streets. And then, with another simple click, calling up socioeconomic demographics that show which of the most vulnerable areas are likely to have residents in need of assistance because they might be elderly or poor, with few resources or capabilities to evacuate on their own.
Or what if a city that wanted to find out more about the social issues driving crime, could, with an interactive map, quickly see how close troubled neighborhoods are to not just police stations, but also parks and other resources that can be crucial in keeping juveniles out of trouble.
Those are the types of solutions being developed by Resilient Solutions 21, which was started by Charles Rath, a former deputy director at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and more recently, a principal at Sandia National Laboratories, where he led initiatives to provide science-based policy options for risk management. He also led Sandia’s involvement in the global Resilient Cities program, which was started by the Rockefeller Foundation to help cities deal with 21st Century stresses like global warming, disasters, crime, drought, poverty and pollution.
The company, he said, builds on that experience, developing lower cost, usable alternatives to the traditional thick printed reports produced by and for public entities by overlaying data from a variety of sources, including Google maps, census bureaus, police and crime statistics, historical weather programs, into easy to use interactive and analytical tools.
While Rath says he is unable to publicly name many of their clients or details of specific projects, one solution they can freely discuss is one they developed for USAID, which is working with Mexico to address the issues behind an escalating rate of youth crime.
“We were able to create a way to look at information that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before,” Rath said, crediting a large part of their success to the visual development work of Kameron Baumgardner, a homegrown whiz kid of sorts who developed a master’s program for the University of New Mexico on big data modeling.
With the system they developed to look at the city of Guadalupe, you can move a circular chart over a map of the city, then zoom in on specific neighborhoods to easily see things like crime rates, employment rates, even their proximity to parks and programs and rates of single-parent households.
Because as Rath says, fighting crime isn’t just about increasing police presence, it’s about being able to see a variety of sources of information to really get to the root cause or causes.
“We’ve made big data visual. It helps people to look at problems before they become one,” Rath says.
While most of its current customers are in the public safety arena, Rath says the company works closely with a local architecture and urban planning firm, Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, and has developed analytical tools have that broad implications for business and industry.
David Kaufmann, former head of policy at the DHS’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, says the work being done by Resilient Solutions 21 is groundbreaking and unique.
“Resilient Solutions 21 brings innovative visualization capabilities to complex modeling and infrastructure issues in a way that can reveal critical intervention opportunities,” said Kaufmann, who is now vice president of safety and security for CNA, a nonprofit research organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research.
Among others who have taken note include The City of Albuquerque. “They are amazing,” the city’s economic development director, Gary Oppedahl said after seeing a recent demonstration of some of Resilient Solutions 21’s work. “What I like about it is the visualization. They are taking big data and making it useful data … that can inform decisions. Not just for business, but for city services and social services and solving some of our biggest issues right now, including mass transit, mental health and poverty.”