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Data Helping To Improve City Services

Michael Keating

It seems like everyone is collecting data about people these days... grocery stores, telecommunication companies and even political parties. The city of Cincinnati collects a lot of data from residents, and officials are using it to improve customer service.  

When Harry Black was hired as city manager back in 2014, one of the goals he heard a lot from Mayor John Cranley and city council members was to optimize government performance.  

So soon after he got the job, he set up the Office of Performance and Data Analytics to do that.  Now, Black and each of the city's department heads have performance management agreements, based on data collected and analyzed by the program.

The city has also been working with the University of Chicago Computation Institute on other issues. Black said the group focused on blight last summer.

"How do we look at everything that we do that might serve as a trigger in the creation of blight before it even becomes blight?," Black asked. "It’s about intervention. That’s what predictive analytics is all about; intervening before something happens or using the predictive analytics to make us smarter."

The institute provides the city with a computer model on the data it analyzes.

"Based on this algorithm, if this event occurs, it is highly likely that these other sub-events will follow suit," Black said. "So that’s the intelligence that we will be getting out of this effort."

This summer, the university's computation institute, with eight team members, is reviewing the city's EMS dispatches and how the Cincinnati Fire Department responds to those events.  

The city's chief performance officer, Leigh Tami, said the group spent some time this summer with 911 call takers and dispatchers, and also responding with firefighters to EMS calls, to gather information. Tami said that can be helpful in a couple ways.

"We can see what kind of incidents we’re having in what areas, so we know areas where we’re having a high number of medic incidents and areas where we’re having not so many," Tami said. "The second part is we can see when we had to send medics later. So we can see in these incidents we initially didn’t send a medic, but we needed to send them later. That tells us maybe we should have sent a medic initially."

That could allow the fire department to deploy resources more efficiently, especially in areas with a high number of EMS calls, and also during particularly busy times. But, she said, it can also help officials review the procedures for such runs and determine if the resources were actually needed.

"The reason that’s really important is because, especially for medics, we have a limited number of medic units. They’re a really, really precious resource and in order to make sure that they get to every call on time, (and) that they get there within a reasonable period," Tami said. "And also that the medics don’t burn out, we have to make sure that we’re being as smart as we can when we deploy them."

Tami said the project started in May and will conclude sometime next month. The city will get the aforementioned computer model and decide what changes may be needed.  

City Manager Black said the bottom line for predictive analytics is to make city services better and faster.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.