When FEMA tasked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with constructing alternate care facilities (ACFs) during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to meet the high demand for care, they did not yet know that this project would also call for solving to two huge data challenges. The first was to implement a fast and efficient way to collect geospatial data, and the second was to integrate this new data system with their legacy and proprietary data systems. It was USACE’s ability to solve these data challenges that would pave the way for seamless coordination between multiple levels of government and both the private and public sector, leading to the swift construction of ACFs.
USACE detailed the path that they took to solve these challenges in a webinar called “Common Operating Picture for COVID-19 Alternative Care Facilities.”
The first challenge arose when USACE began to collect multi-dimensional data about possible ACF sites, such as convention centers, hotels, or mobile medical units. Initially, USACE relied on spreadsheets and manual data entry to track site information to build their database of possible ACF sites. But much of this data was geospatial, meaning there were more dimensions to the data than tabular databases like Excel are designed to accommodate. It was clear that using spreadsheets to collect this data would be far too slow and unwieldy given the task at hand.
In the webinar, Julie Vicars, a cartographer for USACE, said: “This is a geographic problem, let’s throw a geographic solution at it.” Under the direction of geographic information system (GIS) professionals, USACE implemented Survey123 – a GIS field collection application that allowed field agents with no GIS experience to submit geospatial data in real-time through a simple form on an intuitive mobile interface. With this upgrade to their data systems, USACE was able to add 100 possible ACF locations to their database in just two days. According to Vicars, this was the “first-time USACE has used a singular system to collect and report data for emergency response.”
Soon after, the second data challenge arose: In order to move forward with construction, all of the geospatial ACF data would have to be integrated into USACE’s legacy data system, known as RMS. Without a fully-integrated data system, USACE would have to rely on manual uploads of dynamic data to link their datasets. Furthermore, USACE had developed several dashboards for reporting progress to stakeholders, but the data was spread out across Division and District-specific levels, which required a lot of cross-referencing and making separate queries in order to pull information. Full integration of data would also mean presenting all of this information across a single dashboard.
This is where USACE then partnered with Qlik to integrate their Qlik Sense dashboard. In a short amount of time, Qlik helped USACE combine all ACF data for 1,300 sites. Qlik was able to take every data layer, from tabular RMS data to geospatial Survey123 data, and pull it all dynamically into the Qlik Sense dashboard. In the webinar Chad Lott, Operations Research Analyst for USACE, demonstrates a walk-through of the dashboard and the various data sources that were integrated to present business, construction, and location information in one interface.
By early April 2020, just a matter of weeks after the initial task order, USACE completed its conversion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City – a 1,800,000 square foot space – into a COVID-19 ACF that could support thousands of patients. The entire project took a matter of weeks and depended upon the collaboration of multiple state and federal agencies. This was a monumental accomplishment, as constructing healthcare facilities can typically take months to years. USACE’s prioritization in addressing data challenges has laid a foundation that will continue to allow for the rapid and organized construction ACFs.
To learn more about how USACE solved their data challenges, watch the webinar “USACE Common Operating Picture for COVID-19 Alternative Care Facilities” here.