Data Visualization Against Corona

By Stefanie Heyduck

How can the spread of the corona virus be contained? What medical, economic, and social impact will the crisis have? Geoinformation systems, location intelligence, and predictive analytics can help with this analysis. A Bavarian software manufacturer is helping to combat the virus with interactive dashboards.

The Corona crisis affects every single person in all countries of the world. Within a few weeks, and with unimaginable speed, the virus took control of our lives and work. Headlines, forecasts, and even false reports have been coming out ever since. Under normal circumstances, real time factors and speed determine reporting. But now, knowledge and evidence are more important than ever, states Jochen Wegener, editor-in-chief of Zeit Online.

Data Creates Transparency

Data and experts against speculation and superficial knowledge. Esri, a software producer for Geographic Information Systems (GIS), has launched a cooperative effort with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and provides its analysis platform and expertise free of charge during the crisis. With their analysis tools and the interactive maps and dashboards, the data experts help to collect information and to visualize the effects of the crisis on health care, the economy, and our society.

The German subsidiary company is located in Kranzberg, near Munich. By now, everyone probably knows the diagrams from the news. Every day, the employees of the Corona Task Force create visuals for the Robert Koch Institute using the current case numbers from health authorities. The ArcGIS platform runs in the background by merging, analyzing, and visualizing data from various sources.

“As a journalist, you know you can rely on the RKI figures. The visualization through interactive maps and diagrams helps to communicate the information to readers and viewers in a transparent and understandable way," explains Jürgen Schomakers, managing partner at Esri Germany.

Jürgen Schomakers. © Esri

Preventive Action with Interactive Maps

How many COVID-19 cases have been registered in the different Bavarian regions? Are there enough intensive care beds in the hospitals? And how fast do ambulances get to  locations where there is an emergency? Context is crucial. GIS and maps help to gain an overview, plan assistance measures, and visualize hidden patterns. In order to support journalistic reporting, the maps provide information about interdependencies, connections, and temporal progressions.

"In the event of a crisis, it is essential to work in a quick and transparent way and to create a consistent overview for the various parties involved and their different tasks. Solid information is very important to analyze the situation and make the right decisions,” states Schomakers. The effects on commodity chains and supply flows, on public mobility, economic processes, as well as on the manufacturing industry or the insurance sector can be evaluated in detail.

Visualize the Invisible

The software provider has created a national platform for geographical data where, in addition to the case numbers of the RKI, further data sources are available for download.

In order to evaluate the data, engineers, developers, geo computer scientists, and cartographers work closely together with the Institute for Hygiene and Public Health, IHPH, the University of Bonn, and the Robert Koch Institute. In addition, volunteers work for the company's internal "Disaster Response Program", which has been helping out in disaster situations for over 25 years. For example, during the peat fire in Emsland, the cave rescue in Thailand, or during the hurricane season.

During the Corona pandemic, Esri supports more than 100 crisis teams in Germany and helps to set up the software as well as to evaluate the data. In addition to the German federal government, the local governments of Berlin and Brandenburg, the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief can access the dashboards.

In preparation for future catastrophes, a joint transnational discussion on the topic of "Open Data Policy" would be useful. Schomakers states, “Data exchange and data consistency can significantly shorten the reaction times of emergency services in a crisis.”