Data Induced Panic

Blog Post created by ttaylor_ECGISAB on Jan 20, 2017

   Since my last post, I have officially started full time. First order of business is meetings with each department individually to assess their expectations, needs and to introduce them to the ESRI suite. The majority of this had been trying to present all of the information in a way that is easy to digest and not too overwhelming. We are making progress!


The newest bit of excitement has come in the form of an EPA deadline to get our lead contaminated drinking water risk mapped and submitted to the EPA, Health Department, Jobs and Family services as well as the public. Not too bad right? Not so much. One would think that it would be the lack of data that was most worrying. Or perhaps the short timeframe. No. Here the panic inducing factor was the color scheme, and the potential for the maps release (with any color scheme) to cause mass panic among the public. Imagined scenarios involving irate citizens, massive amounts of money, increased testing demands and general chaos were rampant in the discussion following.

   For my part, being the GIS Analyst, I understand the perspective of my more seasoned co-workers. They have a very valid concern about the maps causing mass panic in the wake of the recent lead contamination crises. However, it is my conviction that the presentation of the data and the attitude the city puts forth both before and after the maps release that could minimize and manage the public panic. This is probably a product of my inherent optimism mixed with inexperience.

   Prefacing the release of the map with a push to make our citizens aware of lead in drinking water and educating them about risk and what it is that they can do to minimize and monitor their exposure will help to empower them and give the city a pro-active position as far as public health is concerned. By the time the map comes out, it would be old news for the most part. But the key would be including a plan for assessment of existing infrastructure with the intention of removing lead pipes from the system and more accurately identifying areas of high risk.


   Again, I am very new to politics and cities in general and very inexperienced compared to my peers and managers. Nevertheless, I find this whole situation fascinating. The problem is a combination of conflicts between public servants, the public, the concept of open data, the rights of local government and ethics. It actually seems to happen quite frequently. I am sure that there are many other municipalities (especially in Ohio) that are facing the same challenge with this Lead and copper mapping.


Have any of you faced similarly complex issues with potentially panic inducing data?  What is your philosophy or strategy for dealing with data like this?