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The Importance of Data in Public Protection

18th March 2020 RIAMS

The contribution that data makes in the management of public health incidents and emergencies has once again been highlighted by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. As the profile of the outbreak changes and new cases emerge, the epidemiological statistics are being used to inform decision making and predict and prevent the spread of infection. Other details will also be crucial in tackling challenges at local, regional, national and international levels, but the manner in which this is shared will also be critical if timely and effective decisions are to be taken. The battle with the coronavirus is still in its early stages and the peak has not been reached, but data and information management will continue to play a key role for the duration of the outbreak, and afterwards, in assessing the lessons to be learnt.

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak is at the extreme end of the spectrum of public health challenges. However, the importance of information to managing and delivering services is a daily reality for practitioners. At a time when available resources are under increasing pressure and officers are having to deal with a range of demands and expectations, the importance of data capture and analysis is a necessity. To deliver modern, flexible and citizen-focused services, resources must be targeted appropriately if priorities are to be met. This can be done only if data-effective capturing arrangements are in place, and with social media operating on a 24/7 basis, technology can present opportunities for engagement with partner agencies and interfacing with citizens.

By way of example, anti-social behaviour represents a collection of problems that are perpetrated against and impact on individuals and communities but which often can’t be resolved by a single agency in isolation. A Welsh Government survey in 2018 suggested that as much as 25% of the population had experienced a noise-related disturbance in their own property in the previous 12-month period. Many of the individuals who experienced such disturbance also lived in areas of deprivation: this suggests that further investigation may be required. The number of local authorities across the UK that subscribe to The Noise App (TNA) is increasing and it is now an established part of a local authority’s policies and procedures for the investigation of noise complaints. In Wales, 16 local authorities and many registered social landlords utilise TNA, and huge amounts of data is being collected.

Whilst many noise issues are ‘straightforward’ in nature (e.g. barking dogs, loud music, industrial/commercial operations, etc.), what has become apparent is that recording and logging the noise disturbance using TNA has resulted in valuable intelligence being acquired. In a significant number of cases, recordings either indicate or suggest that other potential criminality or worrying behaviour is occurring. Some recordings have highlighted domestic abuse, threatening behaviour, anti-social behaviour, children at risk, substance misuse episodes, etc.

However, these specifics don’t always find their way into strategic assessments, priority setting and service planning. By gathering data on a multi-agency basis, risk assessing requests for assistance, mapping locations where noise problems are occurring and feeding this into intelligence assessments, a clear picture starts to emerge about what is happening on a local and regional basis. This can then be linked to priority action planning, thus enabling potential problems to be predicted and prevented through the use of intelligence-led interventions. This can assist in delivering focused solutions, ensuring that key targets are met.

It used to be 'lies, damn lies and statistics’; now, it’s more a case of 'data is everything!’