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Snapshot: Can Open Data Provide Real-time Insights to Improve Response to Biothreats?

Release Date: November 16, 2017

Imagine this: Over the course of five days in May, many residents of Atlanta and the neighboring suburbs have been absent from work, citing fever, nausea, and gastrointestinal issues. This initially went unnoticed until several reported cases of septicemia within this short period of time began to draw attention. Of the instances reported, almost all victims had traveled through the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport within the past few days. What could this mean?

In such a scenario how can the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) help local operators quickly identify a potential public safety issue?

In October, S&T launched the Hidden Signals Challenge, a prize competition calling upon data innovators— from data science, to civic tech, to epidemiology—  to develop concepts for novel uses of existing data that would identify signals and achieve timelier alerts for biothreats in our cities and communities. On November 1, S&T conducted a webinar providing additional details about the Hidden Signals prize challenge; watch for more details.

Biothreats occur when harmful pathogens are either naturally or deliberately released, posing a risk to national security and public health. Are early signals hiding in data we already have? How could we use this publicly-accessible data to help identify emerging biothreats, contain their spread, and save lives?

 “The technologies and data sources available today present an unprecedented opportunity,” said DHS Under Secretary (Acting) for Science and Technology, William N. Bryan. “By harnessing new streams of information, we may ultimately identify and resolve an emerging threat faster. This Challenge is one of the many ways S&T is working to keep our communities safe,”

Currently, there are a variety of systems and tools in place to identify biothreats, however they rely largely on health data, which presents challenges for real-time alerts and early detection. This Challenge aims to harness new technologies and data sources to identify an emerging problem quickly and confidently, so communities can ultimately resolve it faster.

Successful concepts will explore connections between multiple publicly-accessible and low-cost data sources to develop real-time insights that can improve public safety responses to emerging biothreats. Warnings will ideally point to signals using timely data sets that become available less than 36 hours after inputs are received, and that would be able to provide indicators within 0-10 days of first instances of initial exposure.

DHS S&T intends for this work to be the first step in the design of a local and/or national-level system that could enable city-level operators to make critical and proactive decisions based on the most relevant and actionable insights. The Challenge focuses on large metropolitan areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta as the basis for a proof of concept, but is open to solutions that address all geographic locations.

Those interested in participating in the Challenge should submit their concept by 4:59 PM EST, Monday, December 4, 2017. The judges will evaluate the submissions and select up to five finalists. At the discretion of the DHS, Challenge finalists from Stage 1 may be invited to participate in a second phase. These Stage 1 finalists will receive $20,000 in seed money to further develop concepts into detailed system designs with guidance from expert mentors in Stage 2, and the chance to compete for an additional $200,000 in cash prizes.

At the end of Stage 2, finalists will be required to submit these detailed system designs, which will describe how their concepts would be implemented in practice.



Last Updated: 02/03/2021
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