Home > Data for People

Arguments over infection curves, case counts, and statistical significance have become commonplace during the pandemic as people the world over struggle to make sense of the constant flow of information. As paradoxical as it might seem for those locked in a debate over the latest heat map or infection rate, we need more and better data. The U.S. has 50 different state systems for analyzing and reporting testing data, with some even arguing the best databases have been from the efforts of news media organizations—although even those data sets lack basic information such as the characteristics of the people tested and where they were tested

The pandemic has revealed the need for more timely, integrated, and accurate data to better understand, communicate, and meet communities’ needs. The pandemic has also captured our collective imaginations, opening possibilities for integrated technologies to safeguard public health and enable a better normal.

For example, traditional travel demand models and forecasts do not account for the drastic and rapid changes in travel patterns caused by the pandemic. Anonymized cell phone data can provide near real-time information on people’s movement. Integrating this data with other data sources can better capture recent changes in travel patterns and behaviors to more accurately inform return to service considerations

Similarly, video cameras and sensors combined with machine learning can track and identify when congestion on a specific platform may exceed social distancing requirements.3 Beyond the touchless interaction with a building’s elevators or meeting room booking system, smart building systems can provide reassurances on air quality and other workplace environmental factors through a digital feedback loop.

While we are practically swimming in Big Data, these examples make it clear we have only dipped our toes into what is possible. Better integrated technologies are needed for a more resilient system that safeguards public health while respecting people’s privacy and safety. The action plan below provides an approach to move further along the path towards a future where data is connected, integrated, and protected for the creation of a better normal.

Action Plan

Identify a target use case

  • Rather than trying to change everything at once, evaluate your organization’s or community’s goals and priorities to select a target use case for enhancing the use of technology to support public health
  • For example, this could be a school or campus, office park, transit facility, retail or grocery establishment, or manufacturing facility.

Set metrics and privacy standards

  • Define the metrics you are trying to achieve
  • Depending on your use case, potential metrics could be an increase in customer or student awareness about new safety procedures, increased compliance with new protocols like mask wearing or social distancing, reduced rates of virus transmission among employees, or not exceeding maximum capacities of people in a specific location to ensure safe social distancing.
  • Identify existing laws or policies around privacy, including for data.
  • If you are using an app for students, employees, transit riders, or another target population, do people have to opt in for you to send them new communications about pandemic response activities? Are cameras allowed to be placed at a property to monitor crowd density for social distancing? Do any public notices need to be posted/shared before data is collected using cameras or sensors?
  • If no existing laws or policies exist, set data privacy standards to protect people’s privacy. This typically includes not collecting or storing any personally identifiable information.

Assess existing systems

  • Define a typical “day in the life” of the target population. From beginning to end, what are the steps needed and individual activities a person would have at the target site?
  • For example, if at a school, typical steps may include preparing to go to school, arriving at campus, entering and exiting various classrooms and buildings, using lunch or lavatory facilities, using gyms or outdoor spaces, interacting with other students and teachers, etc.
  • For each step, phase, or activity identified, evaluate what existing sensors or technologies are in place to communicate with, gather information on, monitor, and manage people’s usage of a facility or service.
  • If at a workplace, do people need to scan in and out of work? Are work shifts standard and fixed, or do they change over time, and are these changes communicated in-person or digitally? What physical touchpoints are required for employees working at a site (for example physical check-in, opening doors, etc.)? Are there any existing technologies in place to enable touchless entry/work (for example automatically opening doors with sensors)?
  • Identify which steps, phases, or activities may pose a threat to public health.
  • A threat in a school for example could be crowding in hallways as students move from one classroom to another.
  • Now identify which of these threats can be improved with technology. In some cases, physical changes to layout or changes in operating protocols may be enough to safeguard public health, while in other cases, technology can be a useful tool to promote public health.

Evaluate available technologies

  • Research and review available technologies and systems and define those able to enhance public health, social distancing, and safety.
  • Examples include sensors, cameras, software to enable crowd management, touchless access to use facilities, and digital signage.
  • Explore how biometrics could be linked to public health while maintaining identity/privacy.
  • For the identified technologies, define rough costs, benefits, ease of implementation, and ability to work with existing systems and technologies in place.

Design your solution

  • Design an integrated technology solution to build upon existing systems and technologies and enhance them with new technologies to safeguard public health.
  • Some examples are: Enhancing an existing camera system in a public place to incorporate machine learning to help identify when crowds become too dense for social distancing, and changing dynamic signage at the location while sending out push notifications on an app to notify people that crowds should disperse, or people should avoid the area until the crowd becomes less dense.
  • Provide access to enabling technologies, such as bandwidth and kiosks to implement the integrated technology solution.
  • Define how new technologies and systems can be integrated into the existing system to address gaps.
  • Define the benefits of the enhanced technologies and systems.

Deploy a pilot project

  • Identify and implement pilot applications.
  • Monitor, evaluate, and expand pilot project.
  • Monitor, evaluate, and share results across sectors.
  • If successful, expand the pilot across the facility or to other sectors.

AECOM Resources and Case Studies