A common theme of my work for the last 20 plus years has been working spatially at granular scales — collecting and analyzing data in different ways that can help reveal patterns and processes that can be translated into action, primarily in the areas of health and natural hazards. I have been focused on working at this “scale of intervention” since my early days of directing the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Remote Sensing and GIS for Public Health, through the geospatial response of Hurricane Katrina, to developing new field techniques to collect data in challenging domestic and international environments, to our current role as spatial epidemiologists in a medical school. For more than the last decade our projects often have included spatial video geonarratives, which are spatially encoded video, along with simultaneously recorded narratives, which when mapped out can be used to gain insights into some of the most challenging environments or health topics. These topics have included post-disaster environments, teasing out overdose patterns, or understanding the spatial dynamics of street homelessness. The same methods have been applied overseas to assess environmental risks connected to cholera and malaria outbreaks, and even revealing the underlying geography associated with the forced marches out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 1975. Most recently these approaches, enhanced with new machine learning, have been used to capture the life cycle of a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had been established after a volcanic eruption had displaced local residents.
But of course, COVID-19 has disrupted so many of these projects. We became part of an academic, hospital, and health department spatial data analytics collaboration working in real time to identify on-the-ground needs, where to direct resources, and where emergent and new variant patterns were forming. The development of new analytical and visualization techniques was vital to meet the ever-evolving needs. In this presentation I will describe how we quickly outgrew traditional geographic information systems and dashboard use, how we incorporated novel spatial database and real-time syndromic surveillance clustering, and how we now use an early warning system designed to identify the first disease signatures across a multi-county region because test result data are becoming more geographically inconsistent. We have also been working with local community health initiatives helping to spatially target vaccine efforts. This COVID-19 response, like our experiences with Hurricane Katrina almost 20 years ago, has yet again shown the importance of geographic thinking and a need for a contextualized spatial science. I will also cover that earlier part of the journey, pulling examples from many of our past and ongoing spatial video projects to highlight the potential for spatial mixed method research, especially when contextualized with local insights.
About the speaker
Andrew Curtis is a professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences and a member of the Population and Cancer Prevention Program at Case Western Reserve University. He has developed various techniques to collect and analyze data at the scale of intervention. This includes the home, street, block, and neighborhood, a scale at which problems are not just identified but can also be tackled through policy and action with expert collaborators. Within this broader agenda, his research follows three interrelated themes: spatial epidemiology, context-driven spatial data collection in challenging environments, and spatial confidentiality. Methodologically, his work involves a combination of field geospatial data collection and spatial analysis.
Prior to joining Case Western Reserve University, he was director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Remote Sensing and Public Health housed at Louisiana State University. There he worked on various domestic and international health projects focused on health disparities at the neighborhood scale. He continued this type of local health disparities work at the University of Southern California where his geographic information system and spatial analytical skills were frequently used to support various area health-related organizations, from nonprofit clinics to the Los Angeles County Health Department. He has held different community/public health/academic liaison roles.
He also served as co-director of the GIS Health & Hazards Laboratory in the Department of Geography at Kent State University.
Curtis holds a bachelor's degree in geography and economics from Portsmouth Polytechnic, a postgraduate certificate from Oxford University, and a master's degree and a doctoral degree in geography from the State University of New York at Buffalo.