Ten Years After Katrina: New Orleans’ Recovery, and What Data Had to Do with it

Open data matters most when the stakes are high

By Denice Ross, Presidential Innovation Fellow

Ten years ago, the concept of “open data” had not yet taken hold within the government.

A sampling of neighborhood data collection efforts after Katrina: Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development, Harmony Community Development, Lakeview Civic Improvement Association (photo credits: Alex Pandel), Mid-City Neighborhood Organization (photo credit: Greg Hymel), WhoData.org at University of New Orleans

In 2009, nearly four years after Hurricane Katrina, then-U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra recognized the public value of open government data, and launched data.gov.

But New Orleans didn’t stop there.

Three open government tools for: 1) tracking status of blighted properties, 2) receiving personalized notifications of proposed land use changes, and 3) crowdsourcing property conditions through a photo survey
  • Today, the City of New Orleans released attributes and photos of more than 10,000 properties on the FEMA-funded demolition list after Katrina, making a significant contribution to the narrative of the city’s architectural heritage. This wasn’t possible before the recent accessibility of government cloud-storage solutions and open-data infrastructure.
  • Yesterday, the Smithsonian Institution, in partnership with Esri, released an interactive Katrina story map built on Federal data sets like the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the 2000 and 2010 Census, and private data sets, such as households receiving mail. Many of these data sets were compiled by the Data Center, an independent research organization serving southeast Louisiana. Organizations that translate data into easy-to-understand information enable citizens to better understand their world and plan for their individual and collective futures.
  • The city’s data on blighted properties fueled Code for America’s BlightStatus web app, which helped New Orleans reduce urban blight through demolition, remediation, or compliance of 13,000 building units in the city.
  • Another local data set on building permits powered NoticeMe, a personalized notification tool that emails citizens when paperwork has been filed to change a land use designation within their designated communities, better enabling the public to participate in public hearings.
  • New Orleans answered the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative’s call to action for local data stewards by releasing disaster preparedness open data, such as the locations of schools, nursing homes, hospitals, grocery and hardware stores, pharmacies, neighborhood boundaries and evacuation pickup points. This data supports greater accuracy in communications and tools used by media outlets, innovators, and first responders.
  • Inspired by the White House Climate Data Initiative, New Orleans is creating a crowdsourcing photo-survey tool for rapid assessment of property conditions. This will help ensure that the burden of data collection post-disaster will never again fall squarely on citizens who are already struggling to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods.
  • As part of the White House Police Data Initiative, New Orleans is committed to opening data about police-citizen interactions with the aim of building community trust. Police and city tech staff recently collaborated with a group of young coders to build software prototypes on a preview of police data sets in an easily accessible form.



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This account will be maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and will serve as an archive of Obama Administration content.