City Launches New Smoke Alarm Initiative Based On Data Analytics

NEW ORLEANS – The City of New Orleans announced Tuesday it will soon launch a new initiative that will bring together the New Orleans Fire Department and the Office of Performance and Accountability to reduce the number of fatalities in New Orleans caused by structure fires.

         The new initiative will use data analytics produced by the Office of Performance and Accountability to identify neighborhoods in New Orleans that are least likely to have smoke alarms, but are most likely to experience a fire fatality. The New Orleans Fire Department will then use the predictive model to conduct a targeted, risk-informed, door-to-door smoke alarm outreach campaign, prioritizing homes in these target neighborhoods for installation of free smoke alarms.

         The model is the first example of the City’s new NOLAlyitics initiative, which aims to leverage data science to improve outcomes for New Orleans residents.

         “Too many lives have tragically been lost in fires that could have been saved if there had been a working smoke alarm in the home,” said First Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin. “The brave men and women of the New Orleans Fire Department do much more than simply put out fires; they also work around the clock to help educate the public on fire prevention and fire safety. This new initiative will guide the Fire Department’s efforts to deploy smoke alarms quicker to those homes most at risk. This collaboration is just the latest example of how the City is using data to provide more efficient and more effective services to the people of New Orleans.”

         Between 2010 and 2014, there were 22 fatalities in New Orleans caused by structure fires, including a tragic Broadmoor house fire in November 2014 that killed five people, including three children. In nearly all cases, no smoke alarms were present. To help guide the City’s efforts in reducing fire fatalities, the Office of Performance and Accountability has teamed up with the New Orleans Fire Department (NOFD) to develop a model that identifies the neighborhoods most at risk for fire fatalities to help prioritize NOFD’s efforts installing free smoke alarms in homes across New Orleans.

          “Preventing fires and fire-related injuries is a top priority for the New Orleans Fire Department and smoke alarms are the most effective way to prevent deaths due to fire,” said NOFD Superintendent Timothy McConnell. “I am proud of this new initiative, which will allow our department to more quickly install smoke alarms in homes that need it most.”

         Beginning in April, the New Orleans Fire Department will use the new model to prioritize its smoke alarm outreach campaign. By year’s end, the department plans to distribute more than 7,500 smoke alarms throughout the city of New Orleans. Last year, the department distributed more than 2,500 smoke alarms. The initiative is the most recent component of a broad strategy by NOFD to prevent fires and fire fatalities, which includes school-based educational programs and a citywide smoke alarm marketing campaign.

         “In launching this initiative, the New Orleans Fire Department is becoming one of the most innovative, data-driven departments in the country,” said Oliver Wise, director of the Office of Performance and Accountability. “Our model uses several key factors to help identify neighborhoods with homes least likely to have smoke alarms and most likely to experience fire fatalities, which are typically in the poorest, oldest parts of our city. The Fire Department can then install free smoke alarms in these neighborhoods most at risk with the goal of saving as many lives as possible.”

         To develop the model that will guide this initiative, the City used a variety of data sources to identify neighborhoods in New Orleans that are least likely to have a smoke alarm and most likely to experience fire fatalities. The model determined that poverty, the age of the building and how long a resident has lived in the building are the strongest predictors of the presence of a smoke alarm. Using research that shows the very young (younger than five) and the very old (older than 65) are most likely to die as a result of a fire, the model then mapped areas of the city that have the highest concentration of the very old and the very young, along with areas of the city that have seen the most fires over the past five years. Altogether, these factors were combined to produce a model that ranks each fire zone in the city by their need for smoke alarms. The Fire Department will use this analysis to prioritize initial outreach efforts in fire zones in the following neighborhoods: Broadmoor, Central City, Leonidas, Hollygrove, Irish Channel, Mid-City, Seventh Ward, St. Roch, Lower Ninth Ward and Algiers.

         Other than staff time, the project has zero marginal costs to the City of New Orleans. The smoke alarms are provided free by the Louisiana State Fire Marshall and the American Red Cross. The Office of Performance and Accountability used data available from public sources and then analyzed the data using free, open-source software. Mike Flowers and his team at Enigma.oi provided pro bono consulting support to help develop the smoke alarm initiative. The City’s new NOLAlyitics initiative is modeled after the analytics initiative spearheaded by Flowers in New York City in his role as Chief Analytics Officer for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

         “By using public data to ensure the safety of every resident of New Orleans, especially those most vulnerable, Mayor Landrieu, Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, Superintendent McConnell and Oliver Wise have shown how smarter government saves lives,” said Mike Flowers, chief analytics officer at “We're proud to have been a part of this innovative and important effort. This is what a smart city looks like."

         District B Councilmember LaToya Cantrell said, “This is truly a public health issue, and it's great to see the City strategically approaching this problem. Thanks to the outstanding work of the New Orleans Fire Department and assistance from the American Red Cross and the Louisiana Office of the State Fire Marshal, fire alarms are free to those who want them, so it comes down to increasing awareness. In the wake of November's tragic fire that claimed the lives of the five Anderson family members, I am overjoyed to see our fire department leading this initiative.”

         District A Councilmember Susan Guidry said, “Too many of our citizens have trouble accessing services that are already available to improve their quality of life and safety, and I have worked hard, along with Mayor Landrieu and my colleagues, to improve accessibility and to share information about valuable resources and programs with our constituents. This new data-driven approach demonstrates our City’s strong commitment to increasing the positive impact and improving the efficiency of our outreach efforts, beginning with the critical, life-saving issue of smoke alarm installation.”

         District D Councilmember Jared Brossett said, “Public safety is job one of government. Getting smoke detectors in more homes is a highly-effective and relatively low-cost way to keep our people safe. Seeing smart government directing this effort where it will help save the most lives is impressive, another way New Orleans is pushing ahead of the curve."

         District E Councilmember James Gray said, “Most deadly fires occur when people are asleep and the experts tell us that smoke doesn’t wake you. A working smoke alarm could save your family from tragedy.”

         The full report on the Analytics-Informed Smoke Alarm Outreach Program can be viewed here




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