UC Berkeley News


 This is a detail from a FASDI-produced map developed for use by people, wheelchair-bound or otherwise, who need to know the slope of various campus pathways. Different colors indicate steeper or flatter paths.

FASDI helps Berkeley get its facts together
It’s a system focused on integrating data from all over campus into maps, websites, and other platforms that make information — currently lodged in dozens of silos — more available to all

| 27 August 2008

With a few clicks of a keyboard, a Berkeley instructor who uses a wheelchair can tap into a growing online campus resource to pinpoint the disabled-parking space closest to her classroom, call up a photo of the space to make sure her van will fit there, and then chart the flattest path to an accessible entry to the building.

Then she can use the same computerized data system to locate the building’s elevators and accessible restrooms, look inside every classroom to check desk placement and audio-visual equipment — and even reserve the equipment and learn how to use it. If it’s evening, she also may want to pick out the best-lit path to the library or a campus café, as well as the location of emergency phones along the way.

This kind of online data, connected through interactive as well as static maps and accessible from many locations within Berkeley’s sprawling Internet site, berkeley.edu, is vital to the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities, says Sarah Hawthorne, assistant provost for academic compliance and disability standards. She outlined this merger of data from various campus sources at a recent UC-wide conference on Facilities and Spatial Data Integration (FASDI) held on the Berkeley campus.

The disabled-access guide is a perfect example of FASDI, definable in part as a cutting-edge technology system Berkeley is building as an essential tool for the university’s future. On this campus, a leader in data integration within the UC system, FASDI is both a concept and the small but energetic office (fasdi.berkeley.edu) that puts the concept into action.

In plain English, FASDI is an information system that starts with physical elements like buildings (facilities) and maps (spatial representations) and joins them to other kinds of useful data — budget and staffing levels, capital improvements that have been made or are budgeted, or the kinds and locations of hazardous materials on campus, as well as such information as the location and size of disabled-parking spaces, what classes meet in which classrooms, how many seats there are in a given classroom, even how wide the doors are.

More people using more data

The core idea is that bringing together — integrating — information that already exists in different departments can make the data more valuable to more people. In essence, FASDI aims to weave a web of information from the far-flung corners of campus (where data is collected by more than 300 different offices and units) into a coherent system quickly accessible to anyone who needs it.

Administrators are using FASDI to allocate scarce budget dollars. Emergency planners are using it to prepare for the next big earthquake or burst of domestic terrorism. Faculty, staff, and students — and even visitors — are using it to navigate an increasingly complex campus.

“We want people to have a one-stop shopping area they can go to where we maintain integrated data that they need,” says Patty Mead, information-systems manager in Business and Technology Solutions, who has managed the FASDI effort at Berkeley since 1999.

Sharing lessons learned

Berkeley, as UC’s leader in this young field, was the logical place for the first systemwide FASDI conference. The all-day event, Aug. 12 at Alumni House, attracted specialists in facilities maintenance, spatial design, disabled access, emergency planning, and data integration from most UC campuses.

The purpose was to share lessons learned so far, both in theory and in practice, Mead said during a pre-conference interview in her small, computer-crammed offices. Color-coded, data-based maps hung all around; one that’s useful in emergencies, she said, shows the distribution of Berkeley faculty and staff according to where they live. The map shows general geography, but not actual houses or addresses.

Berkeley embraced FASDI almost a decade ago, starting both from the ground up, among techies in a fast-digitizing world, and from the top down, with guidance from James Hyatt, then-vice chancellor for resource planning and budget, and impetus from then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl’s 2000 data-integration initiative.

Mead, who has been involved since FASDI evolved first as a concept and then as an office, agrees that what she does can be hard to explain in lay terms. During the Aug. 12 conference, in fact, when work on the terrace outside threatened to interfere with lunchtime sessions, she seized the situation as an example: “If we had just shared information, we would have known they were grinding concrete out there, and we wouldn’t have planned to use this building.”

Vice Chancellor for Administration Nathan Brostrom set the tone for the day, delivering a strong argument for campus-wide data sharing, not just at Berkeley and every other campus but among all the UC system’s 10 campuses as well.

Brostrom and George Breslauer, executive vice chancellor and provost, have made data integration a campus priority, launching the Institutional Data Management and Governance initiative in 2007 to find ways to make “institutional data easily accessible, reliable, consistent, and secure.”

Brostrom, who came to Berkeley from Wall Street, said his work in higher education has proven just as stressful and competitive — especially as budgets and resources are stretched thin.

“What I’m finding is that, increasingly, all of our decisions and our actions taken on campus have to be driven by analysis, and analysis is only as good as the data that goes into it,” Brostrom said. Berkeley’s aim is to build a tight network of systems and policies that ensure “data that is consistent, reliable, and readily accessible across campus.”

He continued: “These are some of the most important decisions we’re making on campus, whether it be on space utilization, on business resumption, on emergency response — and to have accurate and consistent data is increasingly important.”

Sharing information among departments holds the dual promise of economies of scale and cost-savings, Brostrom said. For instance, linking data on all of Berkeley’s athletic facilities, including who uses them and when, lets administrators optimize the use of existing space instead of having to spend money on new buildings or fields.

Unlock those silos!

Introducing an issue that would come up throughout the day, Brostrom said he was “quite surprised by the lack of data-sharing across campus” and expressed concern that vital information was locked in “departmental silos,” inaccessible to the rest of campus.

With 40 percent of current campus staff eligible for retirement over the next five years, Brostrom said, it’s more important than ever that the data they manage be made available to others on campus. Ripping open the silos also helps prevent needless duplication of data, he said, while centralized integrated data is easier to make secure behind strong firewalls.

Tessa Michaels, chief technology officer for Brostrom’s Administration unit, explained that people naturally resist sharing access to their information out of fear they’ll lose control of the data, or of their own power and recognition. She emphasized that the various departments, administrators, faculty and staff who collect and maintain data remain its “stewards” even when the data is shared with, and integrated with, information from other offices.

Part of the challenge on all campuses, she said, is helping people understand that integrating data has the effect of increasing its value, not decreasing it. For instance, seismic ratings have been integrated into the campus map, allowing disaster coordinators to send teams quickly to the buildings most likely to have suffered damage in a quake. Or, in the case of a sniper on campus, map-linked data can immediately help police identify the danger zone and provide another set of information for parents and students.

Berkeley campus emergency planner Tom Klatt ran through a long list of the ways integrated data is critical to emergency response.

Buildings, hazardous materials, and high-pressure steam lines have been mapped by proximity to fault lines and flood and slide zones. Evacuation plans can be (though haven’t yet been) linked to real-time information about building occupancy. Planning for a flu pandemic means mapping areas of high-density living, dining, and other kinds of close contact.

“We need data in a hurry, under the worst circumstances, when the power is out and it’s the weekend in the middle of the night,” Klatt said. “We need it to protect the campus and our business enterprise.” FASDI is built into Berkeley’s emergency planning, he said, and he urged other campuses to do the same.

On a day-to-day basis, data can be just as useful to anyone with campus business, according to Sarah Hawthorne, the moving force behind the full integration of data on disabled access. And data, she said, can be both a sword and a shield for the university.

The disabled-access maps came into being because of a lawsuit filed after a law- school student tried to take her child to the Anna Head childcare complex but wasn’t able to enter in her wheelchair. Had data existed to show that the campus was largely compliant with state and federal disability-access standards, the lawsuit might have been headed off, said Hawthorne. Instead, seven years of negotiations led to a 100-page settlement agreement, in compliance with which teams were sent out to map and measure buildings, paths, parking lots, restrooms, and elevators.

The result is the system of maps and linked data detailed above, some of which can be accessed through the FASDI website or the Academic Compliance and Disability Standards site, acads.chance.berkeley.edu.

To create the system, Hawthorne said, data had to come from almost every unit on campus. Much of it had to be created in response to the lawsuit, because data collection and maintenance hadn’t been made a priority. But it should be, she said — and not just around disability law.

“This is relevant to campus policies, federal and state codes, building, plumbing, and electrical codes, employment law…” she said. Not only is it important to the people who need it day-to-day, it’s a valuable part of proving compliance. And, she added, it can be an advantage when departments compete for budgets, if, for example, the data supports arguments for equipment or building upgrades.

All of that is just the beginning of what’s possible, Mead told the conference, which likely will become a yearly UC-wide event.

“Increasingly,” she added, “we are going to go toward data integration because that’s the only way to make decisions with scarce resources.”

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