National lab’s data tools are homing other agencies’ COVID-19 response efforts

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The National Preparedness Analytics Center developed a series of data tools to help agencies identify where the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are most severe.

Situated within the Department of Energy‘s Argonne National Laboratory, NPAC spent the last year gathering data from agencies and private sources used to create interactive indices, analyses and maps made public on May 12.

About 20 agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, use the tools to plan their COVID-19 response down to the county and demographic levels, and in the coming months they’ll help monitor pandemic recovery over time.

“FEMA recognized the need for a lot of data and analysis to inform that long-term recovery perspective,” Iain Hyde, deputy director of NPAC, told FedScoop. “How were they going to deliver critical services to communities?”

Within the initiative’s first month, NPAC collected between 100 and 150 data sources from departments like Commerce, the Treasury and the Interior. The center launched a web portal with the first set of analyses from its interdisciplinary team of 20-plus economists, emergency managers, attorneys, infrastructure specialists, and data analysts.

The County Economic Impact Index shows the change in local economic activity throughout the pandemic, relative to pre-pandemic levels in January 2020. A quick scan of the latest monthly map shows every county in Connecticut has one of the least stable economies, which could make the state the target of future federal relief efforts.

Meanwhile, the Housing Stability Index quantifies the decreased stability of both renter- and owner-occupied housing due to missed or deferred rent or mortgage payments or serious delinquency during the pandemic. The Department of Housing and Urban Development can use the information to understand the risk of eviction and foreclosure among vulnerable populations.

Still, other indices examine the pandemic’s impact on state and local government revenue and internet access.

NPAC updates the indices monthly as, say, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases new unemployment numbers.

FEMA’s 10 regions, in turn, refer to the indices before deciding how to engage the most affected communities.

“The No. 1 decision that our resources have been able to help with is: How do the various agencies engage with their communities to understand impacts and support that locally driven recovery effort?” Hyde said.

NPAC is far enough along with its work that now agencies are requesting specific analyses. The Minority Business Development Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts separately asked for in-depth reports on how the pandemic is affecting minority-owned businesses and the arts and culture sector respectively.

Additional resources for the territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands are forthcoming, as are lessons learned from NPAC’s COVID-19 data initiative — intended to inform future disaster response efforts, Hyde said.

One thing NPAC hasn’t done is tapped into the National Labs‘ high-performance computing facilities for its work.

“However we have required a fair amount of computing power to be able to capture those impacts on a county basis; we’re covering approximately 3,200 counties,” Hyde said. “In some cases, we’re capturing indices down to a census tract level, so about 77,000 census tracts.”

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Argonne National Laboratory, coronavirus, Department of Energy (DOE), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Laboratories, National Preparedness Analytics Center (NPAC)
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