Federal professionals have uncovered crucial terabytes of data that are now serving as the latest tool for entrepreneurs to create innovative mobile apps aimed at improving safety amid America’s streets, highways, railroads and consumer products.
Safety professionals across government “all want to set our data free,” said Jo Strang, the community leader for safety.data.gov, and the chief safety officer for the Federal Railroad Administration.
She’s one of many involved in Data.gov’s Safety community, which is capturing and exposing safety data that until now was only available deep within federal databases.
That community, and the applications that are being created around government data, got a high profile platform last week when the White House, and Federal Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, staged a “safety datapalooza” showcasing new and emerging uses of public safety data.
“If it saves one life, it’s a huge success,” she added. “It has the potential to change the life of Americans by improving their safety in ways we haven’t thought of.”
In one real life example of how the safety community is driving innovation, one entrepreneur used data from the safety community to develop Saferoadmaps.org, which collects and analyzes data from the Department of Transportation and all 50 states (map example pictured above).
“I see it as a first inning. It raises new opportunities for combining and using this data in new ways,” said Tom Horan, dean of the School of Information Systems and Technology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.
“For years if not decades, federal data has been stored in the catacombs of agencies. Entrepreneurs typically did not have the time or resources to plow through these data for use in new products and services,” Horan told Breaking Gov.
In one example, there were more than 37,000 motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S in 2008, and an urgent need for government agencies and other key institutions to come up with ways to prevent them. But there’s been limited use of GPS and online mapping systems to help prevent accidents, according to the saferoadmaps website.
“The federal government is really raising the bar here,” Horan said. “Data is just one piece of the puzzle. Innovating applications that utilize data is another piece.”
Dan Verakis, founder and CEO of Safetybook.org, took the same route for his company to take available federal data to develop a product recall monitoring service.
Using data from the Safety community, he built a central registry for product recalls. Consumers register their purchased products, and Safetybook.org notifies them if there is a recall.
“The only time a consumer knows about recalls is when there’s a major one or when kids are killed,” Verakis told Breaking Gov. “We’re trying to make it easier to connect with consumers.”
Safetybook.org pulls federal recall data from the Safety site, including notices from the Consumer Product Safety Commission and federal regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration that monitor and publicize recalls.
The lists are updated nightly and the recalls are plentiful. There were nine recalls just on Aug. 30, Verakis said. A recent list of recalls included: Coffee makers from Mr. Coffee, bicycle handlebars, inflatable water tubes, batteries for cordless tools, air compressors to blow up tires and carpet runners placed in front of a kitchen sink.
In San Francisco, Trulia, a real estate search site, took crime data from safety.data.gov to create a block by block analysis for homeowners, something that had never been done, said Sha Hwang, Trulia’s design technologist.
Until now, safety information was domain-specific, making it hard to collect data across agencies. Agencies and the public had to dig across many separate agencies to develop a predictive model. Safety.Data.Gov has made it easier to search across government data sets, making the task of getting comprehensive information much easier.
“Data.gov is moving forward because government has these large data sets that have gone unknown and unused and now entrepreneurs create new services and mobile apps to help consumers stay safer,” Verakis said.
Horan predicts freeing the federal government’s data troves will help the consumer in many new ways.
“Data.gov promises to dramatically change the consumer’s world by making much of this data at the ready with a few clicks on your computer,” Horan said.