Can public open data help protect against biothreats?

At both a national and local level, open data is helping governmentsfight crime, improve public transportation and more. Could it help as an early warning system for biothreats — instances where harmful pathogens are released, deliberately or not — as well?

A new Department of Homeland Security challenge posted to asks data scientists, disease specialists and more to consider how existing open data sets might help detect new biothreats early.

Of course, the agency is already on the lookout for signs of this hazard. “Currently, there are a variety of systems and tools in place,” the challenge page states. “However, these tools largely rely on health data to detect signals.”

The problem with this? It’s slow. “If and when a potential biothreat appears, every minute counts,” the challenge page warns. So DHS hopes that using additional data sets — like biodiversity and climate, perhaps, or energy — might speed up the detection process.

The challenge is quite open-ended — more a project of creativity and imagination than a straight forward task. The deadline for submissions to stage one is Dec. 4. Five finalists will be selected based on their projects’ originality, feasibility, scalability, impact and sustainability, and each of these five teams will take home a $20,000 prize. Stage two will proceed from there.

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Source: FedScoop