Big data helps emergency management efforts despite privacy concerns

Efforts at collecting big data recently helped the government at all levels respond to emergencies across the U.S. despite privacy concerns from some.

Cities from New Orleans, La., to San Diego, Calif., now use data to contact residents who may be at risk from disasters or health problems, Emergency Management reports.

The city of New Orleans contacted residents in January of this year if they had medical conditions and were threatened by an ice storm there, and uses a healthcare exchange to notify primary care providers when their patients are admitted to hospitals. The city also used Medicare data to identify and verify that 600 beneficiaries who were billed for oxygen equipment or ventilators needed them, according to Emergency Management.

The San Diego Resource Access Program recently identified mentally ill people who habitually called 911. The city was able to curtail the behavior and save $314,306 and more than 200 hours of city workers' time, Emergency Management reports.

The CDC program BioWatch has also helped local, state and federal authorities share patient data on a common platform. Government officials used the program in response to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

Some have said that although big data programs are well intentioned, they constitute an invasion of patient privacy.

"I think it's invasive to use their information in this way," Christy Dunaway, an emergency planner for the National Council on Independent Living, said, according to Emergency Management.