The open exchange of data is crucial to creating an efficient disaster response plan. Operation Dragon Fire (ODF) is attempting to do this through the swift transmission of data between responders through the use of the ODF app. By allowing for this exchange, the speed at which resources can be deployed increases. Similarly, in medical crises, dissemination speed is essential.

A new initiative launched by Vice President Joe Biden’s ‘Cancer Moonshot’ program aims to double the pace of preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. To do this, a data-sharing agreement was reached between the National Cancer Institute and biotech firm, Foundation Medicine. Foundation Medicine will be the first company to openly share its database of tumors from 18,000 adults to the Genomic Data Commons. This public database will increase researchers’ ability to research genetic abnormalities and could lead to new treatment options.

Imagine the possibilities if everyone openly-shared knowledge and information

Increasing the size of the database plays into President Obama’s initiative to increase the use of ‘precision medicine’ – using biological information to tailor treatments to patients. For cancer this is difficult as there are so many forms and subtypes of the disease. However this step of opening up data to researchers will only increase the likelihood of finding drug combinations for all the various combinations of cancer tumor genomes.

Hopefully, the contribution made by Foundation Medicine will inspire others to open their data vaults and increase the speed of response to mutations in cancer cells. The idea then is for Operation Dragon Fire to similarly inspire others to share their own information when responding to a disaster. Only through the open exchange of data can significant and swift progress be made.

Resistance to openly sharing data

This speed is not without consequence of course. The most common refrain when talking about open-data issues is the issue of privacy for users. In the case of the ‘Cancer Moonshot’ program, patient privacy is of utmost concern. For Operation Dragon Fire, our concern is for the privacy of organizations and volunteers that will be using our application. While the scope is smaller in terms of the type of information that is being offered, privacy concerns still remain for many.

Privacy fears can be overcome

The idea then is to create an atmosphere of trust around the product. For Operation Dragon Fire, it will be crucial to establish trust, and maybe even draft memorandums of understanding, in order to accelerate response to the problems facing disaster relief professionals in the field. One way to do that is to demonstrate that the product works and does not compromise the user, a process that the Operation Dragon Fire team is currently working through. The lessons learned from these large-scale deployments of similar technology will help shape the way that Operation Dragon Fire operates in the future.