Coast Guard Deploys COVID-19 Data Visualization Tools to Manage Workforce, Operational Readiness

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The suite of tools is developed and run by big data company Palantir.

The U.S. Coast Guard is deploying COVID-19 data visualization tools to help leaders make informed decisions on everything from vaccine distribution to operational readiness and has taken steps to ensure the new systems don’t compromise guardsmen’s privacy and security.

“The pandemic impact to the USCG is widespread and touches all aspects of USCG’s responsibilities of maritime safety, security, and stewardship in U.S. ports and inland waterways,” officials noted in a privacy impact assessment published Wednesday.

As the pandemic spread, the Coast Guard developed the COVID-19 Operational Software Suite to provide “leadership and employees with mission critical capabilities that enable rapid analysis and visualization of USCG data in near real-time, assisting decision-making processes,” according to the privacy assessment.

The system—the analytics software and platform—was built and is maintained by Palantir, a big data analytics company known for working on military and national security programs.

The tools are designed to help division leaders in four primary areas:

  • Vaccine support, including managing vaccine resources, tracking doses over multiple shots, cold chain management and getting doses to remote locations.
  • Workforce readiness, including tracking “emerging risks and new patterns.”
  • Strategic resource and asset allocation, including allocation of personal protective equipment and other critical resources that might be in short supply.
  • Operational readiness, using the data to “assume a more proactive operational and risk-assessment posture during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The data ingested into these tools are “predominately” used for data visualizations, “but more complex analytics may be used,” the assessment states. “However, it does not conduct complex analytics to target or identify individuals.”

The program’s goal is to provide situational awareness and perspective, the document states, and should have no direct impact on individuals. The assessment stresses that, “No new records will be placed in any individual’s records.”

Depending on the specific tool, data collected could include “name, date of birth, mailing address, email address, Zip Code, employee ID number, unit designation or other unique operational identifiers,” among others.

The document provides a specific example in the Vaccine Support tool, which collects names, electronic data interchange personal identifier, employee identification number, date of birth, work email, sex/gender, marital status, race, ethnicity, case ID, vaccine event ID, vaccine lot number, vaccine type and unit identification code. That tool also collects limited data on members of the public—such as family members of guardsmen.

The privacy assessment notes “The COVID-19 Operational Suite does not maintain Social Security numbers or biometric identifiers.”

All of that data is collected from various sources, none of which include individuals.

“Rather the information is pulled from a source system, manually or, in the future, through system-to-system interconnectivity,” the assessment states.

None of the tools have the ability to transfer data to other Coast Guard systems or databases, “nor does it collect or change any data in the source systems or permanently retain data,” the impact assessment states. “The tool is designed for unclassified information up to For Official Use Only.”

The suite of tools does collect COVID-related data from other Coast Guard systems, which is then fed into the various analytic tools. But users cannot alter the underlying data, the privacy assessment notes, and most cannot see the unique data points, unless they “already received permission to view or have a need to know.”

The systems also pull public, open-source data to supplement Coast Guard data sources, such as USAFacts, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wikipedia.

“The COVID-19 Operational Software Suite integrates this open-source data with the USCG data to provide the USCG with a comprehensive understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic impact on USCG missions and readiness,” the privacy assessment states. “USCG does not use open-source data to identify individuals or verify information already provided by or about an individual.”

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