The role of analytics in bio-preparedness


I have recently had the great opportunity to be a part of a very special project called the North Carolina Bio-Preparedness Collaborative (NCB-Prepared) It is a public-private partnership that includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), North Carolina State University, and SAS, with support from the US Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of this system is many fold but intended to provide early detection and awareness of potential health events as they relate to tainted food sources, illness, acts of terrorism or natural disaster. It will integrate data from many diverse sources both within the State of NC as well as hospitals and third party sources, to name a few.

My role as team lead for the Analytics Group is extremly interesting since analytics is playing a very key position in this project as the key mechinisms that triggers an alert that a possible event is occuring. SAS, with it’s vast array of analytical tools and solutions, is supporting the collabrative in determining new and unique ways to effectivly handle these events while keeping false positives low. Techniques to incorporate data quality and business rules is also critical to the cleansing, prepping and joining of the data. Text Mining or Natural Language Processing is also incorporated to take the narrative inputs (from doctor’s notes or EMS calls) and translate the real meaning and sentiment of the field to then be incorporated into the analysis process.

Analytics, used in this manner, is an effective way of combing through vast amounts of data looking for the proverbial “needle in the haystack”. Alerts coming from day-to-day activities, or the comparison of seasonal influences and cycles, seem innocent enough until compared to a broader spectrum and baseline of information. Visualizing these outputs in an easy to undersatand presentation layer giving the end user the necessary information to investigate, collaborate and respond as necessary.

It is an honor to participate in such an important project not only to the State of North Carolina but to the nation as this program is intended to be extended to other states. Our executive director (he blogs!) and co-principal investigator are presenting NCBP tomorrow at the NC State Health Directors Conference. I hope that audience gets excited as I am about the potential of this system. Working with the leaders in this industry, the various state agencies as well as our partners and vendors in the field, we continue to innovate and make this system one of a kind.


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Robert Latham

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