The Washington Post

White House hosts forum to discuss open data and public safety

At a White House event earlier this week, data enthusiasts from the public, private and nonprofit sectors convened to discuss how government data can be used to improve public safety.

Several Internet start-ups and federal agencies detailed new products aimed at helping citizens access safety-related information.

The Food and Drug Administration, for instance, announced plans to open FDA’s data sets to the public, including adverse event and medication error reports on FDA-regulated drugs. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency described something called GeoQ, an open data base to which people can contribute location-tagged photos of disaster affected areas to assess damage.

Leah Busque, founder of errand-site TaskRabbit, said the site would build a new portal that could help volunteers organize tasks, like food distribution, during disasters. Crowdfunding Web site CrowdTilt said it would feature the fundraising appeals of small business owners in disaster-affected areas more prominently on its site.

Other entrepreneurs, such as Bryan Vila, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University, discussed their new products. Vila has been developing a wristband that can detect when police officers are showing signs of fatigue, with the idea that it would then nudge them to take breaks or a nap.

President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to open data last May when he signed the White House Open Data initiative. A new plan calls for updates in existing initiatives, such as further development of, which houses federal data sources for public use.

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