Archive for the ‘pandemic’ tag
The issue of community-produced maps has reared its head on the IAEM email list today – closely linked to my post back on the 26th. The following issue was raised, and I wanted to share my reply to this.
Lack of citation was my major concern with the other available maps that have been in wide circulation. The second concern with the other maps is that they showed push-pins when they did not have or could not cite the data to support specific points.
My reply follows:
I think you’ll find that most of those maps do actually have references, in the case of the Google Maps mash-ups, they are contained in the hundreds of comments accessible from the same page as the maps. In fact, it is generally from the posting of these references in the comments, that the Google Maps get updated. What they have failed to to is to make it easier to reference the citations, by not including the reference in the popup bubble above the marker. But if you read through all the comments, you’ll likely find most of the citations there.
Another big failure is to create a timeline/history so that one can see the growth/change in numbers over time for each marker. Most of the maps are purely a snapshot of the here-and-now, and give no context via history.
The real point that emergency managers should take away from this is the following.
Agencies that ‘own’ the source information (e.g. CDC, WHO, and health agencies in every other country in this case), really should be publishing authoritative georeferenced data at the source. If agencies did this, then there would be no need for these ‘amateur’ cartographic efforts to hack together information from news, rumours and other sources. It would sure save a lot of time and effort in people trying to recreate information that already exists and either hasn’t been released, or has not been converted to a georeferenced format.
Likewise, it isn’t really the role of companies to provide this information. Once again, they are just filling a gap that we, as emergency managers, have failed to meet.
The mashup culture is a direct result of a failure by emergency managers to make information available in a form that end users clearly want it (as evidenced by the time and effort they will put into recreating the data in the form that they want to use it).
Perhaps we really should start thinking seriously about how we can produce authoritative information in formats that our communities want.
If you have a look at the example map I created in under an hour on the 26th, you’ll note that I created a little table in each popup for a marker that contained a link to the source article, and in the case of the San Diego marker, included daily figures for three days so it was possible to track the state of that marker over time.In addition, I scaled the marker images so that they were more proportional to the number of cases – a marker for each infection quickly produced an unreadable map, hence it seemed a better approach is to produce summary markers for each location, with the size of the marker indicating the numbers.
The real trick is going to be to produce a web application to track and manage this information, that can then export it in a suitable form to display the information as discussed above. This is clearly something we should look at for Sahana.
Three months ago I blogged about the Conficker worm and its relevance for emergency managers. Since then, I’ve rumours that a number of health agencies were still having problems with their email systems. The reason I raise this again, is that now, with a large national response to a potential pandemic taking place, one hopes that Conficker has been well and truly removed from all Health systems (both Ministry and DHB).
If Conficker is still impacting on health agency IT systems during this period of increased activity, then honestly, heads need to roll at MOH.
I see that a few newspapers have been bandying about the $24b potential impact a pandemic could have on New Zealand’s economy. In case anyone is interested, the report1 is available for download here.
- Buckle, R A; Douglas, J; Szeto, K L. (2006). Impacts of a Potential Influenza Pandemic on New Zealand’s Macroeconomy. The Treasury. [↩]
I’d like to make a quick point about readiness, particularly pandemic preparedness in the current media rush around swine flu.
After Y2K, many people complained that it amounted to nothing – there were no significant events that came out of it. This was a direct result of all the work that was put into fixing at-risk systems and likely many millions of person-years work. Had we not put all that effort in, it could have been very different.
Likewise, if swine flu does not amount to much, this may also be likely in large part to the massive amount of risk reduction and readiness that has been put in place over the last five years or so. There has been a massive amount of investment in pandemic influenza planning, general emergency management planning, and pandemic exercises (here in New Zealand at least Exercises Makgill and Cruickshank).
My point is that we shouldn’t behave like that this is going to be a 1918 Spanish Flu event (althought caution always suggested that the risk is there) and the end of the world as we know it (as some on Twitter might think so). With SARS, and Avian Influenza being prominent over the last few years, these have allowed many governments and health agencies to better prepare for an event such as swine flu. All this preparedness will improve our collective response to a potential pandemic. There are resources, trained people, plans and processes in place, and being used. I believe that all the work of the past few years will place us in a much more robust position to face this threat.
Ten of the New Zealand students that returned recently from Mexico have been confirmed to have Influenza A. Influenza A is apparently an indicator of swine flu, but further tests will be required to confirm that any of them have swine flu.
With the announcement in the past few hours that there are potentially cases of swine flu in New Zealand, the media has mentioned that both the Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs and Trade have been monitoring and providing advice on the situation. However, if you visit their websites there is no obvious and easy link to take you to a page for more information. Although to give MFAT some credit, if you follow the safetravel.govt.nz link, you will find more information there.
Given the current heightened interest being shown in swine flu, it is a pity that both of these agencies aren’t providing clearly visible links on both of their home pages to locations where more information can be obtained.
Update: 2009-04-27 13:57 Great to see that the Ministry of Health now has a lovely big banner across the front of their website with a link to further information. Now they just need to implement an RSS feed so that interest parties can subscribe to receive all updates in a feed reader.
The link will take people to the MOH Mexican Swine Influenza Updates page.
Just came across this article via Twitter – but H1N1 may (let me emphasis the may) have been brought back to New Zealand (@1624) by some schools students that have recently returned from Mexico.
Twenty-two students from Auckland’s Rangitoto College, may have been infected with the Swine Flu, which the World Health Organisation warn could start a global epidemic… Up to six have been showing flu like symptoms, but the test results won’t be confirmed until Monday.
More details available on Stuff (@1713, updated @1920). Of course, it could just as well be standard travel lurgi as well. It sounds as though more information should be made available later tonight when the test results are back.
It is interesting watching the various mashups being created by people to plot the cases of Swine flu as it appears to spread. One thing that has struck me is is the poor use of symbology to attempt to communicate the desired information.
The first Swine Flu map that appeared on Google was fairly readable, however the author had decided to use a contrary means to identify fatalities. Whilst black is commonly used during triage as a means of identifying a death, this neocartographer has decided to use a black dot in the symbol to signify that they are living and the removal of the dot to signify a fatality. Of course, when I first looked it the map my instant read was that black dots represented fatalities.
Within the last few hours, a second mapmaker has come along and tried to correct some of the errors that the first created – namely they have now adopted black to symbolise a fatality, however the new torso icon really makes it hard to get a good overview of what has happened, and all the black markers in Mexico are completely unreadable.
Perhaps the brief takeaway message from this is that some authority that is actually well versed in cartography for pandemics should have a system in place whereby they can make this information available – with well thought through, and designed cartography. There is clearly a desire for it as these mashups indicate.
Update: I thought I better have a go myself. So here is my first attempt. I took this information from the WHO Media Release. This first effort was just to get some of the case and fatality numbers out there. I decided to take an aggregated approach and use one icon per city/town. To give a slightly better representation, I had to take one of the Google Maps markers and produce scaled-down versions to represent the cities with far lower numbers of cases and fatalities. Next step later this afternoon may be to map some of the other figures – e.g. the reports in the United States from those that were infected in Mexico. I’ve also included a reference table if you click the marker, which will contain a list of figures as at various times. There is also a link to the source used for those figures. I think this approach will result in a much less cluttered map. I could look at using colour better as well. Red could be used to represent cities where there have been fatalities, and yellow where there have only been cases, but no fatalities. As reports move more towards countries and states, it will be less appropriate to maintain a city/town based approach. This then probably means that a move to polygons is required to better indicate the affected areas, as states/countries don’t lend themselves to a point-based approach.
View WHO report of Influenza-like Illness in a larger map
Finally, the Wikipedia article on the current influenza event has now received its own page.
I heard about this on the radio earlier today, and have now been watching the uptick in interest upon Twitter, and thought I’d capture some of the pages and articles that have been coming up on ‘Swine Flu’ for reference.
- US Center for Disease Control – Home page for Swine Flu
- World Health Organisation – Influenza-Like Illness in the United States and Mexico (20090424)
Reference & Maps
- WIkipedia – Swine influenza, the current Mexico and US outbreak
- Google Maps – Swine flu in 2009
- EpidemicFlu.com – Map of confirmed deaths, confirmed cases, and possible cases in Mexico and the US.
- Veratect – a good timeline of what has happened to date.
What is concerning in the WHO press release is this:
The majority of these cases have occurred in otherwise healthy young adults. Influenza normally affects the very young and the very old, but these age groups have not been heavily affected in Mexico.
This is something that occurred in the 1918 pandemic. Here is an excerpt (p.23) from Rice1.
Why was the 1918 flu so deadly? And why did it kill mostly young adults in the prime of life? … Burnet surmised that the high mortality among young adults may have been in direct porportion to their healthiness. Comptempories often remarked on the fact the 1918 flu struck down robust outdoor types more readily than pale unfit weaklings… It may be that the adult body over-reacts to what us usually only a mild illness in children. Burnet suggested that something like this had happened in 1918, that fast-breeding flu viruses triggered a panic reaction in the patient’s immune system, causing massive over-production of antibody, leading to dangerous imbalances in the bloodstream which invited seconday infection.
The fact that the fatalities in Mexico to date have been healthy and young adults should be cause for concern.
- Rice, G. W. (2005). Black November – The 1918 influenza pandemic in New Zealand. Canterbury University Press. [↩]