Data-driven crisis management
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The Covid-19 pandemic contains the kind of multi-element problems evident in systems that require careful analysis in order to prevent delays and minimise chaotic responses, according to President Way Kuo of City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
President Kuo’s talk was part of the Distinguished Lecture Series held by the Hong Kong Institute for Advanced Study on 30 September online and in person. Over 500 people registered for the talk.
To understand what is happening in such a pandemic crisis, powerful data analytics are required to understand how the various elements involved in a crisis interact, he said.
These elements include not only people who have caught the virus and medical workers in hospitals and quarantine facilities but also factors related to engineering, communication, the economy and social stability.
Over the past few months the global problem has been that the first stages of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, until approximately April 2020, were characterised by a lack of reliable data, which consequently and consistently led to confusion.
“This situation was like the infant mortality seen at the early stage in modelling systems,” said President Kuo, who is a world expert expert in the fields of reliability and safety.
To prevent the kind of problems seen at the global level earlier this year from reoccurring, President Kuo recommends the creation of a Command, Control, Communication and Information (C3I) as a surveillance–response system for pandemic outbreaks.
“What is needed within a C3I centre is full analysis of each of the elements in such a system using a powerful set of tools, including data analytics, for assessing the pandemic and other crises,” explained President Kuo.
The key elements for such a C3I centre include preparedness for an emergency and the swift transmission of accurate information, circumventing the middle-stages to expedite the response.
This is because the analysis, and understanding, of data is extremely important, particularly during the early stages of a crisis.
President Kuo described how an examination of the data detailing the regional and global spread of Covid-19 as early as 24 January 2020 prompted CityU into transitioning all CityU face-to-face classes to an online mode as quickly as possible.
Consequently, CityU was possibly the first university in the world to roll out a real time, online, comprehensive platform for continuing the University’s overall teaching curriculum, President Kuo said. The platform is called CityU-Learning.
“We made our decision based on data, not by guessing,” he said. “Some thought CityU had overdone it, but it was soon clear that we had made the right decision.”
Analysing the data accurately is also vital. According to President Kuo, using WHO data, the mortality rate of Covid-19 will decline over the next 18 months, depending on length of time between a Covid-19 diagnosis and death, and without considering the introduction of a vaccination, to reach levels appropriate for seasonal influenza. Between 30 March and 19 June 2021, the case mortality rate should fall to 0.1%; from 31 July to 19 October 2021, 0.01%; and from 28 November 2021 to 15 February 2022, 0.001%.
For the C3I centre to respond to crises, President Kuo recommended the following three points:
1. The time spent transmitting data must be shortened to minimise delays.
2. The need to simulate all possible outcomes to minimise chaos and panic.
3. The need to learn from past mistakes so that crises become opportunities.
President Kuo finished his talk stating that a C3I centre would be an ideal means of tackling other pressing global crises such as environmental problems created by excessive use of fossil fuels. Such environmental issues were not gaining so much attention right now because of Covid-19; however, these pollution problems were not going to disappear, he said.
Sometimes no decision might be a good decision when responding to a crisis but first you need to analyse all the data in the system with experience from different areas, and then make a rapid decision based on that data, he concluded.