Novel Analysis and Visualization of Chemical Events for Public Health Surveillance

How to Cite

Henry, M. J., Charles-Smith, L., Han, K., & Corley, C. D. (2017). Novel Analysis and Visualization of Chemical Events for Public Health Surveillance. Online Journal of Public Health Informatics, 9(1).


ObjectivePacific Northwest National Laboratory hosted an intern-basedweb application development contest in the summer of 2016 centeredaround developing novel chemical surveillance applications to aid inhealth situational awareness. Making up the three teams were threegraduate students (n=9) from various US schools majoring in non-public health domains, such as computer sicence and user design. Theinterns suc- cessfully developed three applications that demonstrateda value-add to chemical surveillance—ChemAnalyzer (textanalytics), RetroSpect (retrospective analysis of chemical events),and ToxicBusters (geo-based trend analytics). These applicationswill be the basis for the first chemical surveillance application to beincorporated into the DTRA Biosurveillance Ecosystem (BSVE).IntroductionPacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), on behalf theDefense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA; project number CB10190),hosts an annual intern- based web app development contest. Previouscompetitions have focused on mobile biosurveillance applications.The 2016 competition pivoted away from biosurveillance to focus onaddressing challenges within the field of chemical surveillance andincreasing public health chemical situational awareness. The result ofthe app will be integrated within the DTRA BSVE.MethodsPNNL hosted nine graduate interns for a 10-week period inthe summer of 2016 as participants in a summer web applicationdevelopment contest. Students were drawn from such fields assoftware engineering and user experience and design and placedinto three teams of three students. The challenge presented to theinterns was to design and develop a fully-functional web applicationthat would address a critical need within the chemical surveillancecommunity. The interns developed their own ideas (vetted by PNNLand DTRA), discovered and inte- grated their own data sources,and produced their own visualizations and an- alytics, independentof any assistence outside of that provided in an advisory capacity.The competition end with a judging event with a panel of subjectmatter experts and cash awards were distributed to the teams.ResultsEach team produced a unique application. Although there wasmild overlap between some of the ideas, the applications weredeveloped independently and each reflected the unique contributionsof the teams. ChemAnalyzer is a text-analytics platform designedto facilitate more data- driven decision, given a corpus of text dataabout a chemical event. Their plat- form provided the ability toautomatically identify and highlight key words in documents relatedto chemical events. The keywords are drawn from an on- tologyinstalled with the system, as well as any user-identified keywords.The ChemAnalyzer team finished in third place. The RetroSpect teamdeveloped a visual analytic tool for performing retrospec- tive analysisand monitoring of chemical events. Their app provided the ability tosearch and analyze past events, as well as visualization of state andcounty information for the recorded chemical events. The RetroSpectteam finished in second place. The Toxicbusters team—the winnersof the competition—created a geo-based situational awareness toolfor tracking chemical events. Their app featured an updateable mapoverlay, search functionality for finding specific or related events,incident and city/state/national-level statistics and trends, as wellas news and social media integration based on keywords related tochemical surveillance.ConclusionsEach of the apps developed by the teams provides value to ananalyst tasked with monitoring chemical events. The apps integratedunique data sources to provides a full picture of a chemical event, andits effects upon the surrounding population. This integrated analyticsprovides a valuable benefit over existing workflows, where analystsmust monitor news, social, and other information sources manuallyfor real-time information. The apps developed by these interns aredesigned to enable identification and analysis of the incident asquickly as possible, allowing for more timely assessments of theincident and its impacts. The web app development contest provideda unique opportunity for students to learn about the emergingneeds in chemical surveillance as it relates to health sit- uationalawareness. Students were drawn from a variety of fields and weretasked with developing novel web apps addressing some of the mostpressing challenges in the field of chemical surveillance. The ideasgenerated by the students will help form the basis for future chemicalsurveillance application development to be integrated with the DTRABSVE.
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