In the summer of 2019, Daniel Santamaria Ots received the Jack Larson Data for Good Fellowship for his research in Puerto Rico aimed at empowering disadvantaged communities and fostering further government transparency and accountability. The fellowship supports Master’s of Information and Data Science (MIDS) students who desire to use data science to benefit society. Santamaria Ots will complete his MIDS degree in the fall of 2020.
A resident of Puerto Rico since 2011, his approach to research and data mining shifted after the island was hit by hurricanes Irma and María only a week apart in September of 2017. His personal experience with the failure of both the federal and local governments to deliver emergency help to affected Puerto Rican citizens led to his participation in the Puerto Rico Recovery Fund (PRRF).
In the days after the disaster, Santamaria Ots developed a disaster relief database with his colleagues at Espacios Abiertos that assisted in the delivery of 4.2 million pounds of emergency supplies — including water, food and hygiene kits — to impacted communities. Using the data visualization software Tableau, Santamaria Ots tracked in real-time the distribution of cargo that was being flown in by UPS, NY State, and UNICEF.
Speaking about the experience, Santamaria Ots said, “This specific database included prominent information such as geolocation of the points of emergency relief delivery; how many pounds of water, food and personal hygiene products were available; and how much could be allocated to each municipality, taking into consideration the population size, average household income, and the last date of delivery, among many other factors.”
He continued, “It was crucial for this database to be 100% accurate, real-time, meticulous, and heavily detailed. At the end of the day, it is what helped PRRF organize the distribution of these resources throughout the beginning stages of their Disaster Relief Plan.”
This is only one example of Santamaria Ots’ many projects executed with Espacios Abiertos involving the use of data science for the public good. Others include: analyzing Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, researching the economic benefits of a new Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) system for low-income families, and advocating for the need for a public Tax Expenditure report from the Puerto Rican government.
With this fellowship in hand, Santamaria Ots hopes that data can become a tool for Puerto Rican citizens to hold their elected officials accountable. He states, “My purpose is therefore twofold. The first is to aid Puerto Ricans by giving them the tools and the knowledge to use data science on their own as a means of organization in the case of another devastating emergency. The second is to encourage the Puerto Rican government to become more transparent with their data and accountable with their actions, whether it be out of their own volition or as a result of the public’s pressure.”
“I understand that data science is an untapped stream of power for the Puerto Rican people,” Santamaria Ots said, “With this fellowship I want to be able to start twisting that rusted key and start providing people with data and information, thus equipping them to become agents of change in their communities.”