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Project Spotlight: Project Data

Building a location-specific predictability modeling system to prevent medical supply shortages.

Written by: Tif Ho

PPE demand by state and organization. Courtesy Project N95.

The Challenge

COVID-19 has caused a severe shortage of supplies on the front lines. Manufacturers and distributors have continually struggled to meet rising demand for emergency, medical, and protective equipment. Consequently, hospitals, medical facilities, and government organizations have been left scrambling to individually procure critical supplies from whatever channels they can find. Attempts by organizations to individually procure supplies have caused dangerous delays in obtaining life-saving equipment, countless redundancies in the supply chain, and alarming inefficiency. Ultimately, these problems have demonstrated the need for a more effective, centralized process for procuring equipment. 

COVID-19 has exposed gaps in the global supply chain that have existed prior to the pandemic. In fact, these issues have been replicated across multiple industries and supply chains, and the pandemic has only made more evident the potential for deadly repercussions when multiple supply chains fail simultaneously. Thus, Project Data lead, Marie Murtagh, states that the challenge is in more than providing emergency medical and protective equipment during COVID-19. The greater challenge is in understanding, “Why is the system broken to begin with, and how do we fix it?” Long-term solutions need to address unexpected scenarios so as to maintain preparedness for future pandemics and natural disasters.

1-supplier-info

Supplier information mock up for database.

The Solution

Project Data was started by Prime and is led by Project Manager Marie Murtagh, Project Owner Andy Arluk, Product Manager Cecilia A. Esquivel, and a team of 25 volunteers. The team seeks to resolve issues in the global supply chain by creating a centralized process that matches supply with demand. Murtagh states that the project is currently divided into two concurrent missions, which address global supply chain issues both during and after the pandemic: 

  1. COVID-19 Response: The team seeks to reduce supply chain redundancy while helping front line organizations to fulfill their needs for emergency medical and protective equipment.

  2. Post-COVID-19 Response: The team seeks to “capture specific needs from individual medical facilities” and match those needs to manufacturer and distributor capabilities within distinct locations worldwide.

Supplier type screen mock up.

During COVID-19

Prime states that initially Project Data sought to understand the needs of front line organizations and to find suppliers to fulfill those needs. A spreadsheet will allow organizations to keep track of their supplies at the beginning and end of each day. This method will calculate the burn-rate of equipment, which will be used to predict how quickly new supplies would be needed. Volunteers will then be able to mobilize manufacturers and distributors to replenish organizations. Ultimately, the goal is for organizations to have equipment containers outside their locations, which distributors can keep filled with needed supplies. 

However, while working on Project Data, the team found that with the rise of COVID-19, there had also been an increase in volunteers around the world. Like the Project Data team, these volunteers sought to fill the gap in the global supply chain and resolve current equipment shortages. Their efforts have caused redundancy and inefficiency that are similar to that caused by front line organizations which individually seek to procure their own equipment. For example, multiple groups of volunteers have contacted organizations for the same information. Other solutions have been short-term and location-specific.

This document helps volunteers to “avoid reinventing the wheel and recreating solutions that are already out there.”

Ultimately, the team tried to reduce redundancy by putting together a document to guide volunteers. This document helps volunteers to “avoid reinventing the wheel and recreating solutions that are already out there.” The document lists and categorizes ongoing projects, as well as open-source resources. The team is also currently collecting large sets of data to help with prediction modeling. The datasets will then be aggregated into a centralized database, similar to https://data.humdata.org, to allow for central planning. The centralized database “will greatly enhance efforts in being able to assess updated needs by medical facilities and be able to effectively match them with delivery for any projects or other supply sources.”

Step 1: Request supplies.

step-4-request-supplies-review

Step 4: Supply request review.

After COVID-19

While working on their COVID-19 response, Project Data decided that creating a centralized database would help to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies. Coupled with prediction modeling, this system presents a long-term solution for matching supply with demand in future pandemics and natural disasters — and possibly even for everyday needs in low-resource locations. A centralized database will identify and validate initiatives based on categories. Organizations can then use this database to sift through existing initiatives that would be best suited for their needs.

Additionally, the team has been working on building a robust, worldwide prediction modeling system. They have been using multiple open-source technologies and data compiled by other volunteer groups. As demand for supplies is specific to geographic locations, the team has been intent on capturing several data points that would predict location-specific demand. These data points include the location of medical facilities, population size, and percentage of the population in certain age brackets. These datasets will be put into ArcGIS to create an interactive map that provides visualization of needs around the world. Subsequently, manufacturers and distributors can apply their capabilities to preemptively deliver medical and protective supplies.

COVID-19-outbreak-USA-per capita-cases-map

Real-time data of demand for protective equipment. Courtesy Wikipedia.

How can you help?

Currently, Project Data has several minimal viable products (MVPs) out, which they are continuing to integrate into a more robust function. And recently, the team attended the PPE Data Interoperability Event Series.

Murtagh states, “We’re always going to need something – funding, resources, partnerships. But ultimately, there’s nothing more important than willingness to try. The willingness of a group of people who are driven by a purpose, people coming from an altruistic nature and wanting to be part of a solution for humanity.”

Want to volunteer, donate, or learn more?

On Helpful Engineering’s Slack community…

  • Contact Project Lead: @AlwaysPrime
  • Project Manager: @Marie Murtagh
  • Product Manager: @Cecilia A. Esquivel

Join the next PPE Data event in Slack channel #project-data-public.

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