This spring, right about the time that NFPA was ushering in its inaugural crop of data analytics interns, Forbes Magazine came out with its list of Best Jobs in 2016. Topping the list was data science, proving that businesses recognize the importance of capturing and analyzing data in order to create relevant, real-time solutions – and reinforce gut instinct. For similar reasons, the role of statistician secured the #2 spot on the list.
NFPA has been talking about data, and more importantly working collaboratively on data projects, for more than a year. With each conversation, internally and externally, it has become abundantly clear that data is a driving force in today’s world.
To support Dr. Nathaniel Lin, NFPA’s Data Analytics strategy lead, and the lofty goals of the organization - more resources were needed. Former WPI graduate student intern, and current full-time NFPA data scientist, Mohammed Ayub was the first to join the ranks. Mohammed is laying the foundation for a new national fire data system that captures (and shares) incidental, health and wellness, operational, and other existing data. Two new interns intent on real-world work experience and high impact opportunity were also hired. Harsh Vardhan and Ramy Fahim are helping NFPA, and by extension our stakeholders, to collect and analyze data that will address the fire problem. Harsh, a WPI graduate student pursuing a data science degree, has been a key contributor to a major data project - a property inspection prioritization tool. He’s also categorizing the nearly 400 inquiries received last month at NFPA’s Conference & Expo (C&E) about NFPA’s Data Analytics Sandbox. Meanwhile, Fahim, an applied mathematics undergrad at USC, is breaking down data from 30,000 U.S. fire departments. By creating 15-20 different profiles based on size, location, volunteer or professional service, he is generating key information that will enable fire departments to make decisions based on collective wisdom. The three data disciples also point to a fire incident risk model project (predicting the likelihood of fire incidents) for the state of Tennessee - as a revolutionary precursor to a national model.
NFPA’s data team has a language that is unfamiliar to many of us including web scraping (scouring the web for data), imputing (filling in missing data fields based on machine learning techniques), clustering (grouping subsets), and surveying (tapping into the collective wisdom of the fire service for best practices), but they also need to know how to effectively communicate with NFPA management and partners about complex concepts. With a dozen big data projects on the radar, the team spends their days delving into complicated solutions and mastering the art of simple communication.
Each of the emerging data scientists agree that NFPA is the perfect place to be right now. They chose NFPA because they liked the idea of being part of a 100-year old start up that is blazing new trails. A conversation with the trio is peppered with enthusiasm and words like cusp, opportunity, solutions, pain points, social impact, tactical, independent, operational, forefront, empowerment, and common goals. Admittedly, they didn’t know much about NFPA before they arrived, and yet they can’t think of a better springboard for their career. It’s a transformative time not only for these millennials but for the 120-year old organization that shares the belief that data is the driving force for change these days.