Data-driven tools will help communities accelerate equitable resilience
On December 15, 2021, NOAA announced the winners of its climate competition within the Open Data for Good Grand Challenge, which is part of the U.S. Census Bureau’s The Opportunity Project. The purpose of the competition was to accelerate the production of new digital tools to help local decision makers use federal data for better climate resilience planning.
“NOAA is the nation’s premier provider of climate services and data,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “NOAA’s partnership with the Census Bureau and Opportunity Project participants has created exciting new tools that can help communities across the country use data from NOAA and other federal agencies to prepare for climate impacts and build a better America.”
Climate impacts in the U.S. are growing more frequent and costly. U.S. decadal billion-dollar weather and climate disasters have quadrupled since the 1980s. As the associated frequency, severity, and costs increase, so, too, does the risk facing Americans, especially those most vulnerable to climate impacts, such as poor, rural, and minority populations.
The pace and scale of climate-related impacts are outpacing our nation’s response. Resilience to these growing threats must be built locally, and local decision makers need better ways to have federal data at their fingertips to address local climate-related risks and opportunities. Many local stakeholders currently find federal data hard to find and hard to interpret. They seek tools to help them produce locally customized maps, visuals, and text. They also look to experts’ guidance on communicating about science and data.
The winners of the NOAA division of the Open Data for Good Grand Challenge answered this call for better tools from the municipal, county, tribal, and state decision makers responsible for climate planning and action, especially in underserved communities.
“It was exciting for me to watch these teams turn their innovative ideas into working products in less than 12 weeks,” said Tony LaVoi, NOAA’s Chief Data Officer. “The diverse range of approaches they took in addressing our challenge is very impressive. I am looking forward to seeing these new tools being used by communities and businesses to help them plan and build resilience.”
NOAA divided its $50,000 prize among three teams in these three categories:
• “Best All Around and Most Responsive to NOAA’s Challenge” ($16,666) was awarded to mySidewalk for its Community Resilience Toolkits. MySidewalk is a private startup founded in 2015 and held by its original investors. Its Toolkits are data tools designed for use by Community Development Departments or other U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recipients. There are six toolkits in total, covering major community hazards: extreme heat, sea level rise and coastal storms, inland flooding, wildfire, drought, and erosion and landslides. The Toolkits allow users to assess local risks and resilience solutions. According to one judge, MySidewalk’s Toolkits “have a super intuitive interface. It’s clear to see the hustle and creativity that went into creating a seemingly simple solution with complex data powering it.”
• “Best User Interface & User Experience” ($16,666) was awarded to Forerunner for its Floodplain Management Dashboard. Forerunner is a startup founded in 2019. Their Floodplain Management Dashboard uses FEMA National Flood Hazard Layer data and NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey imagery to enable local government floodplain managers to effectively communicate flood risk and track changes in their community. One judge praised the “great user interface that is easy to use with the color coding and provides a clear-cut potential picture of flood plain risks.”
• “Best Tool for Equity & Inclusion” ($16,666) was awarded to R Story, a college student team that developed a tool by the same name. R Story uses U.S. Census, EPA, Federal Communications Commission, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Bureau of Economic Analysis data to facilitate the use of federal data to improve sustainable rural economic development for community leaders. “I was so impressed by the ease of use and interesting and clear graphics presented through his app,” said one judge.
Honorable Mention awards were given to the Deloitte team for its Climunity Planning Tool, and to the Citi Ventures team for its new City Builder tool.
Climunity Planning Tool: Deloitte’s new tool uses multiple federal open data sets to address the key barriers expressed by community planners seeking to combine and visualize multiple external datasets alongside local data in a customizable dashboard. The tool can be used in comprehensive plans, community planning board meetings, legislative planning, grant applications, and other community climate response efforts. A judge called it “an extremely ambitious project with plenty of open data and obvious potential for positive impact for end users.”
City Builder: A product of Citi Ventures, this tool uses public and private datasets such as the Census American Community Survey and EPA Air Quality data to present information about place-based investments across census tracts in the United States. A judge called City Builder “exceptionally well thought out and outstanding in its design and utility.”
The Open Data for Good Grand Challenge brought together government, industry, universities, non-profits, and communities for 12-week product development sprints. Government agencies first identified urgent issues facing Americans. Then teams of entrepreneurs and innovators used federal open data to create new technologies that provide solutions to those problems. Along the way, the agencies, product advisors, and users who directly experience those issues gave valuable input to ensure the technologies developed directly target community needs.
The Opportunity Project is an annual technical development sprint and competition hosted by the Census Bureau, and this is the first year that NOAA has participated.