Deer in the the headlights? Not with analytics.


I live in the South, but was raised by Midwestern Catholics from rural Minnesota. Think Jeff Foxworthy meets Fargo.  A few of the great things that I have learned about folks in the South is their incredible politeness even when they are really saying, "Wow, what in the world are you talking about?" If you "ain't from around here" and you are dealing with one of us Southerners and you hear the words, "bless your heart", you may want to reconsider what you're saying.

Recently all of this came together for me when a colleague sent me a humorous Internet video about a woman in North Dakota who called in to a radio station to discuss some recent issues that she had with her car. On three separate occasions, she was involved in wrecks with deer.  Now, this woman, bless her heart, had each of these wrecks immediately after seeing a deer crossing sign.  She proceeded to ask the disc jockeys to assist her with getting the word to the appropriate authorities that these signs should be moved so that the deer would be directed to cross in safer areas with less traffic. I'm going to pause here and let that sink in with you for just a moment.

Moving along.  In a similar vein to this, my mother once believed that the airbag warning signs on the visor of her rental car meant that the airbag would come flying out of the visor in a wreck.  I explained to her that may potentially decapitate her and that maybe it was just a warning.  Bless her heart. Now, neither of these lovely Midwesterners were any less serious than you and I are everyday when we discuss politics, or family, or anything else. Our deer loving heroine was convinced, based on her experiential data, that the deer were being directed to cross by the government at certain points along the road.  To her, it was obvious that the government could easily move the signs and hence have the deer cross in a safer area, thereby reducing crashes, killing fewer deer, and resolving all issues with roadside deer clean up.  Seems logical when you think about it, except clearly it's not. However, based on data she had from her experiences, she firmly believed it made sense.

Too often we rely on experiential or anecdotal data in our decision making processes.  Too often policies are made because "that's how we have always done it." It’s easy for state and local government leaders to fall into that trap, when they should be asking questions like:

  • When we are building new roads and determining their economic impacts, are we relying on models from many years ago or are we employing updated world class analytics to make those decisions?
  • Can we use tools that model the wear and tear in our utilities systems to predict our equipment failures or do we just rely on, well, the fact that we fixed it a few years back?
  • In health care are we simply relying on opinions of doctors or are we gathering data from many sources on specific treatments and their effectiveness to make accurate diagnoses and predict optimal protocols and bending the cost curve of our health care systems?

All of our policy decisions need to include better analytics to ensure not just optimal political value, rather, true societal value and better results. If we don't use all the data available and analyze that data and optimize our decision making we all may end up as deer in headlights.



About Author

Chuck Ellstrom

Sr Manager, Industry Consulting

Chuck Ellstrom manages a team of subject matter experts focusing on multiple policy areas in state and local government, particularly health and human services, justice and public safety and finance. Over the past 16 years, Chuck has worked on comprehensive grants intelligence solutions, disaster planning, disaster recovery operations, and interpretation and execution of client requirements. He has extensive expertise with the challenges of managing large infusions of Federal grant dollars and projects into states. In his seven years at SAS, Chuck has helped develop several SAS technologies, including a major disaster management intelligence solution. Before joining SAS, Chuck was Deputy Chief of Operations for North Carolina’s Division of Emergency Management where he was responsible for the management of 13 Presidential Disaster Declarations and statewide disaster response operations. A former field artillery captain in the U.S. Army, Chuck holds a bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, as well as a master’s in public administration (policy analysis), from East Carolina University. Chuck takes advantage of living in a hotbed for college basketball but officiating in multiple conferences throughout the southeast U.S. He is also a proud father of a rising 9th grade “soccer star."

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  1. Pingback: Hold the flip phone! Outdated data solutions in disaster planning, recovery - State and Local Connection

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