Data for Good: How analytics helped rebuild New Orleans


Data is used to answer many different questions, but one common theme we’ve been seeing in the industry is using data for the common good.

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the Office of Performance and Accountability (OPA) was challenged with rebuilding the city. Joel Mullis, the city’s first data scientist and leader of the NOLAlytics program, knew the approach was simple – analytics. Mullis shared this story during the annual SCSUG conference on the campus of LSU.

“We needed to be smarter than before,” said Mullis. “We didn’t have the luxury of doing it over again.”

The first issue the OPA had to overcome was addressing the 25 percent of city addresses in blighted areas. Mullis said that they had a process for lots and buildings, but nothing was merged, making it complicated to work together.

“Citizens were mad about it,” said Mullis. “They said you’ve got to fix it.”

The OPA set out with a goal to decrease blight 10,000 by 2014. They called the project the BlightSTAT. It involved increasing inspections without raising costs, instead being more transparent.

Making open data available

Next came BlightStatus. It was a website where citizens could put in their addresses and see where they were in code enforcement.

Mullis said there were three things that made this work:

  • Setting goals
  • Tracking performance
  • Getting results

“This is what happens when you let data drive an organization,” said Mullis.

Data saving lives

The OPA also used data to make residents more aware of the importance of smoke alarms.

A map was created with two models:

1 – The homes that were least likely to have smoke alarms
2 – Most at risk of dying in a fire

After they determined the areas at risk, the New Orleans Fire Department targeted its smoke alarm outreach. “Three weeks ago there was a fire and the people were able to get out safely,” said Mullis. “That was one of the houses we targeted and smoke alarms were added. All 11 people in the home survived.”

What's next?

Mullis said its next big analytics project is working to optimize Emergency Medical Services (EMS) locations in the city.

He hopes the work they’re doing in the New Orleans can be scaled in cities across the country.

“There is still a staggering and humble amount of work that needs to be done.”


About Author

Maggie Miller

Education and Training

+ Maggie Miller was formerly a communications specialist at SAS. You'll likely find her writing blogs, shooting videos and sharing it all on social media. She has nearly ten years of journalism experience that she brings to her writing to help you learn and grow with SAS. Follow on Twitter @maggiemiller0

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