Of the 27 offices within the Department of Homeland Security, DHS chose to release three high-value datasets from only one of them — the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new datasets are:
1. A list of 90,000 state and local government recipients of FEMAs Public Assistance Grant Program from 1998-2009. The program provides aid to disaster-hit public facilities or non-profit facilities. The file is easy to download in a CSV format and the data is pretty straight-forward. DHS says the public can use the data to compare local recovery efforts of public assets in their communities. Many of the recipients are whole counties, cities or states, so its hard to get real granular-level information on where projects are located. Having geographic codes would also have helped if someone wanted to map the recipients locations. The technical documentation for this dataset comes in a separate download.
2. A list of the more than 37,000 federally declared disasters, emergencies and fire management declarations from 1953-2009, including the first-ever declared federal disaster, a tornado, that on May 2, 1953 ripped through an unknown county in the United States. Its unknown (blank, actually) because tracking of county-level data didnt begin until 1964. The last tracked disaster was storms and flooding related to the noreaster in Nassau County, NY that was on December 31, 2009. The data is in an excel format and is easy to use. DHS says that the data can help analyze patterns of emergency response activity at the local level which could help communities make budget decisions for emergency planning. We suspect the county-level information comes from Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) codes which the government uses to code locations. Perhaps the FEMA data manager assumed that the public wouldnt understand or care about having such codes. For the record, we care! Including those codes would have been very helpful in mapping or overlaying this data with other dataset such as migrations patterns. A note, the technical documentation for this dataset is pretty important to understand this document. Its available in a separate download.
3. A list of 18,000 projects in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program which gives funding to states and local governments to create long-term hazard mitigation measures following a disaster. This dataset is in an excel format and is quick to download, and the fields are pretty straight-forward, but the formatting within the document makes it pretty difficult to sort. CSV people, CSV! The technical documentation is also in a separate download and is helpful for understanding what the share column means. DHS says this data can be used with other datasets to reveal recovery, preparedness and resiliency efforts within communities following a disaster. The data includes information from 1965 and 1966, then skips 23 years to 1989-2009.
All three FEMA databases were one-time releases, even though this is data that is continually tracked. We would hope that they decide to make these databases regular releases or at least update them. As of Friday night, the data is only available on data.gov. Given that DHS is one of the few departments to actually have an open government Web page, itd be nice if these high-profile datasets were added to their own site.