Smarter Crisis Response Through the COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard

MITRE leads an open-source, coalition effort to distill data down to decisions—and help transition the country from reaction mode into recovery mode.

There’s no shortage of information out there on COVID-19, from statistics to infographics to data visualizations. But we’re not all doctors, and without good analysis and interpretation, its impact ranges from useless—to downright confusing.

The COVID-19 Decision Support Dashboard offers a holistic, one-stop shop to make sense of all that data. The capability helps answer complex “what-if” questions to inform key—arguably life-saving—decisions. In partnership with data and analytics providers, the dashboard is one of our signature contributions within the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition.

Aligning to the National Governors Association (NGA) Road to Recovery Roadmap, we initiated an actionable approach to address the challenges of the pandemic. Among the challenges: managing hospital capacity, nonpharmaceutical interventions, and community reopening.

The dashboard provides a structured understanding of performance using intuitive red, yellow, or green indicators that focus on key questions from the NGA report. The interactive map allows users to look at trends and compare county and state information.

The dashboard’s suite of analytic tools enables meaningful extraction of information out of the health domain. Government organizations, nonprofits, churches, businesses, schools, and news outlets are among those benefitting from the capability.

The tool provides critical risk understanding—to anyone in any position. For example, the technology informed a recent Coalition report on planning for on-campus K-12 education.

Turning Dense Information into Understanding

The dashboard doesn’t just spit out numbers. It also incorporates socioeconomics and psychological science into the status of the pandemic. For example, the tool considers factors such as: How well can the nation support virtual learning? How are people spending money? What's the availability of local and national broadband (for teleworking, telelearning, telehealth)?

In looking at such factors, decision-makers can move beyond numbers on infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths. For example, if unemployment is high, spending low, and self-reported depression and anxiety high, community leaders will likely be concerned about investing resources to address mental health issues. The dashboard provides a way to conceptualize and respond to the various risks to different populations.

How we present information is one thing. The accuracy in analyzing that information is another.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” says Joseph Ungerleider, MITRE project lead for the dashboard. “Powerful back-end analytics doing real health analysis, along with simplified stoplight pictures to inform decision-makers on what’s happening.”

Ungerleider explains that typically a search for data on the pandemic will yield pockets of good information from different sites. But users must then aggregate that information by looking across disparate sets of data.

Fed by publicly available data from trusted Coalition sources, our single resource for interpretation brings everything together in one place. The capability provides deep analysis, forecasting, and decision criteria—turning dense information into easy-to-understand actions.

Helping to Navigate Unchartered Waters

The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 means now, more than ever, we need to lean on data-driven, evidence-based guidance. The dashboard leverages good epidemiological data and analysis, along with counsel from public health officials that helped define the guidelines. With more than 1,000 organizations in the Coalition, it draws on expertise from a broad subset of scientists, analysts, and engineers.

The capability is prompting testimonials from various public- and private-sector leaders. These include the Back-to-Work Coalition in Montgomery County, Alabama. They say it gives them a better understanding of how they’re responding to and performing against the pandemic than any other available resource.

Beyond COVID-19, the technology can be adapted to other critical public-policy decisions. This will enable agencies to manage and mitigate risk in future times of uncertainty or instability.

“We designed the dashboard to inform any crisis response—from natural disasters to environmental security,” says Ungerleider. “Given a different set of data, questions, and thresholds, it will still produce simple decision-making guidelines.”

—by Denise Schiavone