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Searching for a Biodefense Dashboard

A variety of great data-sets and visualizations have sprung up in response to the swine flu outbreak. Most are useful mash-ups, such regularly updated maps, while others are public dissemination of proprietary data, such as Veratect. Notably missing, however, is a quality way to aggregate this productivity.

Along with top DoD analyst 'Wiggins,' I have spent the last few days looking for what's called a "biodefense dashboard." Essentially, this is a smart piece of software that pulls data from a variety of sources (in real time) and visualizes it in a way that makes it easy to manipulate.

The goal of having such a system in place is to generate insight that is then used to make better decisions. The beauty of such a flat system is that it allows distributed decision making (which is absolutely necessary for a rapidly changing environment such as during a pandemic). Individuals, families, communities would be all be able to access pertinent data, make decisions, and execute strategies to help mitigate the threat.

Unfortunately, instead of empowering citizens, the government has chosen to place their own dashboards (the few that exist) and, more importantly, data, behind a 'secrecy wall'. This is not different from a 'pay wall' in any meaningful way.

Even if this variant of the swine flu burns itself out, we would do well to lay out the grid-work that enables citizens to tackle tough problems. Building the dashboard is critical, but freeing those data sets would be a more useful first step.

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