By Charles Jennings.

Imagine: you’re a loyal public servant working for a large city. You understand the critical role cities play in 21st Century societies. You take your job seriously and want to make smart, informed decisions. But you’re very busy, and keeping up with the dizzying array of information services available to you, both internally and externally, can be a challenge.

Put another way: you want the best possible information to help you do your job well, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time, effort, and money getting it.

Here’s one suggestion: focus on Big Data. Prioritize getting information services that leverage Big Data to provide you with a deeper, more complete picture of what’s going on around you. Big Data matters because it’s empirical. It takes a hard-boiled, “just the facts” approach. It sifts through myriad facts to reveal new patterns. It helps you make new connections, and connect the dots. Sometimes, it can even help you predict future events—ranging from water-demand surges to smash-and-grab burglaries in a particular shopping district to a new pandemic.

If you’re searching for sources of Big Data that can be valuable for public safety, public health, school safety and emergency response missions, here’s one place to look: your local emergency number dispatch database. 911 CAD systems in the United States, similar 211 systems in Europe, and emergency number services around the world capture the heartbeats of a city (or, at least, its arrhythmias). Emergency number operators record citizens’ most immediate concerns in the midst of crises. They link these citizens to local first responders, who provide critical services that help keep citizens safe, and save lives. Emergency number systems are crucial for citizen health and safety, but they are also treasure troves of valuable data. And this treasure should be mined.

As Carl Simpson, Director of 911 Emergency Communications for the City and County of Denver, pointed out in one of my recent posts, “911 CAD systems, potentially, are a rich Big Data resource for cities in general—and especially for first responders. Our 911 data can reveal important patterns, and help our first responders not only stay on top of breaking events, but also anticipate them.” Emergency number databases, when linked to the right information access, distribution, and display tools, can provide incredible pictures of the critical real-time events happening right now in your city.

But they are only one Big Data resource at the disposal of cities. Public records, agency data repositories, crime statistics, transportation data, and many other sources within a city can also be mined and put to good use.

To do this, cities need access to new “trusted information exchange services” that can tie their various Big Data repositories together. They need new business & security intelligence and analytics services that make Big Data useful and effective. They need these “new with less” information services to be hosted in highly secure, highly flexible, government-certified cloud environments such as Windows Azure.

Ultimately, cities’ internal Big Data will become a highly valuable resource that is used in a variety of ways, many of them public-facing. But Big Data can make a big difference today in public safety, public health, and emergency management functions. In this realm, Big Data only matters if it can help city leaders, first responders, emergency medical technicians, school administrators, and a whole host of other public servants make smart, timely decisions in emergency situations. Flexible, affordable cloud-based services are available today to do just that—once cities commit to putting their own Big Data resources to work.

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Originally posted at Microsoft in Government.

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Charles Jennings is a co-founder of TRUSTe, the Internet’s leading privacy assurance service, and is currently CEO of Swan Island Networks, which provides its TIES® security intelligence service to over 200 large enterprises.