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Fighting Fires With Data, New York City Launches New Safety Inspection System

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, May 15 2013

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announces a new inspection system. Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced today that New York City has implemented city-wide a new risk based inspection system focused on fire safety that is driven by analytics from multiple city agencies.

"What we've done here is activate more of the City’s brain,” said Chief Policy Advisor John Feinblatt in a statement. “By drawing data from the Departments of Buildings, Finance, City Planning, and Fire, into a complete rap sheet of a building, we have created a risk based profile of factors associated with fire. Mining data like this breaks down agency barriers, knits the City’s knowledge together and helps us prevent injuries and save lives.”

Earlier this year, Chief Analytics Officer Michael Flowers told techPresident that data analysis had shown, for example, a correlation between buildings with owners under a tax lien for tax delinquency and catastrophic fires.

"Before we started," he said at the time, "we didn't know what we knew."

According to a city press release, the system announced today is the first of its kind in the country.

"The Risk Based Inspection System identifies for inspection buildings that pose the greatest risk – so that we get to the worst first," Flowers said in the statement.

The system will help firefighters prioritize the 50,000 safety inspections they conduct every year.

Bloomberg announced the system at a firehouse in Long Island City, Queens, one of the 219 city-wide that are using the system.

The new risk-based system now tracks, scores, prioritizes and then automatically schedules the building for inspection based on data compiled from across several agencies, according to the release. The current risk model evaluates characteristics such as the building's construction material, whether the building has a sprinkler system, the height and age of the building, the previous date of inspection and occupancy, according to the release. The system is also able to track a building's violation history and schedule follow-up inspections. The Fire Department already has plans to expand the model to include data sources such as fire history and fire code enforcement actions, and expects to add other data sources in the future.

According to the press release, the new system is part of an ongoing $24 million effort to improve the Fire Department's building inspection unit.

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