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Mapping New Yorkers' Reports of Hurricane Sandy Damage

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, October 31 2012

Writer Steven Johnson likes to tell and re-tell the story of New York City's "maple syrup" years, the approximately four-year span during which parts of the city would mysteriously begin to smell like maple syrup. Using data from the city's 311 call centers, which process non-emergency complaints for everything from noisy neighbors to questions about alternate-side parking to complaints of mysterious syrupy smells, city officials were able to identify the cause. By cross-referencing the scent reports with wind patterns and other data, in Johnson's telling, officials determined that the smell came from a factory in nearby New Jersey making food additives using pungent fenugreek seeds.

Johnson tells the story to identify the emergent power of systems like 311 to help city officials understand the changing environment of the city. By asking citizens to network with city officials, reporting what they know when they know it, city agencies develop a near-comprehensive look at the state of the city on the ground.

Today, 311 data is useful for a more somber purpose. The city releases data on 311 calls on its open data portal every afternoon between 2 and 3 p.m. This afternoon, that data release included calls placed Monday and early Tuesday as Hurricane Sandy whipped up floodwaters, shut off power and blew over trees throughout the city.

The data paint a sobering picture of the damage. Arranged by complaint type, New Yorkers as of early Tuesday had placed 5,102 reports of damaged trees, warned of malfunctioning traffic signals 1,074 times, notified the city in 642 instances of an overflowing or otherwise broken sewer drain, and complained of broken street lights 325 times. That's just the bulk of 8,564 reports placed between Sunday and Tuesday for which data is available. It's likely that later data releases will raise that number even higher.

Here's a map of 311 calls between Sunday and Tuesday for which data is available, grouped by those first four categories and arranged by community district within the city:


Data: NYC DoITT Map: Nick Judd, techPresident

Damaged Tree Traffic Signal Condition Sewer Street Light Condition
>50
41-50
31-40
21-30
16-20
11-15
7-10
3-6
1-2

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