Community Data System Plays Key Role in Planning Recovery from Hurricane Katrina

Author: Jake Cowan and Tom Kingsley
Date Posted: August 29, 2011

In post-Katrina New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center (GNOCDC) has been a central resource of data and information about New Orleans' 73 neighborhoods and the 10 surrounding parishes. During, and immediately after the August 2005 storm, the staff at GNOCDC posted information to their web site about resources available to evacuees and their families. They also provided maps and data to assist in understanding the impact of the storm, from demographic characteristics of each neighborhood, to elevation maps of the city (see Exhibit 1). In addition, their “Ask Allison” web-based technical assistance request service exploded with hundreds of requests for information, which staff responded to from remote locations. Fortunately for GNOCDC, their web site was hosted out-of-state, and their hosting service agreed to donate additional bandwidth to manage to increase in traffic to their web site.

New data and maps provided by the GNOCDC provide additional context for the recovery effort, including a national map of where evacuees relocated, post-Katrina population estimates for New Orleans neighborhoods and housing damage estimates in Louisiana parishes and New Orleans districts. Some of the uses of GNOCDC information include showing where childcare programs in New Orleans are open relative to the location of the population. This information is being used to demonstrate to funders that there is more demand for childcare services than existing supply, and to prioritize where services should be established/re-opened.

Immediately after Katrina, the Louisiana Public Health Institute created a plan for where to set up clinics for basic health services and things like tetanus shots. In deciding where to place these clinics, they used elevation data combined with census data to place these first clinics on high ground in areas with the greatest poverty (where folks would likely be uninsured) and lack of access to vehicles (that would have allowed them to evacuate). The National Park Service's Center for Preservation used GNOCDC data to identify where there is historic housing stock in New Orleans that is outside the protections of an officially designated historic neighborhood. This allowed groups concerned about historic preservation during the rebuild to focus their efforts on the high-risk areas.

Exhibit 6: Map Posted to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center web site shortly after Hurricane Katrina made landfall

This story was initially published in Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy in June 2007.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Denice Warren and Allison Plyer of Greater New Orleans Nonprofit Knowledge Works. The Data Center (formerly the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center) is the New Orleans partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network coordinated by the Urban Institute at the time of the story. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods. 

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