Collaboration in Civic Spheres

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Email: ticktockcitrus (at) gmail (dot) com
Henry Apfel is a student at the University of Washington working towards a combined international studies and economics major. He enjoys analyzing and organizing information to reach realistic conclusions. His studies in economics have underscored the power of models. He greatly enjoys explaining complex subjects and believes that video and other forms of multimedia are extremely powerful. He is currently teaching himself the programming language Python. His work for Public Data Ferret includes a focus on creating data visualizations.

Henry Apfel's Recent Posts

WA vehicle collisions and fatalities drop notably, ’02 to ’10

July 1st, 2012

Data from the Washington State Department of Transportation show that over the past decade there’s been a significant downwards trend in The Evergreen State’s total vehicle collisions and fatalities, even with an uptick in vehicle miles travelled. Additionally, the number of accidents per 100 million miles travelled has dropped sharply, as has the death rate. From 2002 to 2010, vehicle miles traveled increased by four percent – less than a fifth of a percent higher than nationally over the same time – while the number of collisions dropped 10.5 percent. Collisions per 100 million miles traveled declined 19.3 percent. There were 43.4 percent fewer driver fatalities in Washington state in 2010 compared to 2002, and given the increase in miles traveled, driver fatalities per 100 million miles in Washington state decreased 53.5 percent from 2002 to 2010. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that his contrasts with a drop in the comparable U.S.-wide rate over the same stretch of 26.5 percent.

We’ve created an original visualization of the data below using the free Tableau Public tool from Seattle-based Tableau Software. We also get an analysis of the data trends from a University of Washington transportation expert.

Data visualization instructions: a) Start with the “Collision and Fatality Trends” tab view, to see color-coded data key. b) Run your mouse along lines to see individual points of data. c) You may also select different tabs for other representations of the information.

(Note: The original data included a category called “Miscellaneous Roadways” that was omitted for the purposes of this article. Consequently, total values are slightly different from the original data. Source: Washington State Department of Transportation Table TT03 on Road Usage and Safety, found in The State of Washington 2011 Databook, January 2012, Office of Financial Management)

A range of factors likely explain the decline in vehicle fatalities and accidents in Washington State, although their relative importance is difficult to determine, said Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington. One “has been a big push by USDOT (and consequently the state DOTs) to reduce the number of road fatalities,” he said. Hallenback also cited growing safety improvements to vehicles, “click-it or ticket” programs which enforce the use of seatbelts, and graduated driver licensing laws that allow young drivers to gain experience in a safe environment prior to being fully licensed. He added that many roads have had safety improvements, such as the addition of median barriers where there were none previously.

Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization+Washington State archive

Other factors figure in, as well. Use of digital devices while driving is a known risk factor but hard to quantify. One study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute suggested that dialing a hand-held wireless device increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by almost three times.

Related: Q&A with Professor Mark Hallenbeck, Director, Washington State Transportation Center, University of Washington

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

State seeks bids on more probes for geothermal energy

May 25th, 2012

The State of Washington’s Department of Natural Resources is seeking bidders for drilling exploratory geothermal boreholes in Skamania and Klickitat counties at up to five of six targeted sites that have passed environmental muster: Swift Creek, Northwood and Wind River in Skamania County; and Laurel, Outlet Creek, and Box Canyon Quarry in Klickitat County. (Coordinates table; map.) Each borehole would be six inches in diameter and reach a depth of 700 feet, although the drilling would not require construction of new roads or other major infrastructure alterations. Their purpose would be to determine the extent of geothermal energy at the sites, rather than to generate power. The winning bid will likely be selected the week of June 4th, and drilling of the new probes is scheduled to begin as soon as the first or second week of July, said DNR Procurement Coordinator Melanie Williams.

Regional public utility districts and private energy companies produce energy in Washington, but the state regulates the industry and in the case of geothermal, helps take stock of resource potential. Higher-temperature sites are the most preferable. Following is a mapped visualization of geothermal energy exploration to date in Washington, created by Public Data Ferret. Read the rest of this entry »

Data viz: major U.S. pipeline incidents, 2008-2010

April 23rd, 2012

A study released by the Congressional Research Service on U.S. energy pipeline management and security says that despite potential vulnerability to accidental malfunction or purposeful sabotage, the risk of a terrorist threat is low, but safety oversight could be improved, particularly by beefing up staffing of inspectors. Roughly 170,000 miles of pipeline in the United States carry material that is toxic, flammable, or otherwise dangerous, including approximately 75% of the nation’s crude oil. Around 200 interstate pipelines account for about 80% of United States pipeline use.

Vast network, some fatal accidents, property damage
Overall, pipeline discharges cause few deaths. Hazardous liquid pipelines caused an average of 1.8 fatalities yearly from 2006 to 2010, while natural gas transmission and distribution pipeline accidents caused an average of 3.0 and 9.8 deaths yearly over the same time period. However, an individual pipeline accident can cause significant damage and loss of life. A gasoline pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, exploded in 1999, killing three people and causing millions of dollars in property damage. In 2000, a natural gas pipeline exploded near Carlsbad, New Mexico, and killed 12 campers. Pipeline breakages can release of thousands of gallons of hazardous material; a leak caused by corrosion on the North Slope of Alaska released more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil in 2006, and in 2011 a pipeline spill in Montana released approximately 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

Following is a mapped data visualization of U.S. pipeline accidents from 2008-10 that caused fatalities and/or more than $5 million USD of damage. Click on individual points to see more data; click and drag to move the map. Click on the +/- signs to zoom in or out. Click the “x” to close a pop-up box.

Data sources: The Congressional Research Service
PHMSA Incident Reports

Pipeline security threats elsewhere, but not so much in U.S.
Pipelines may also be vulnerable to purposeful sabotage; in the case of certain pipelines, this may even extend to computer-based attacks. Groups in Mexico, Colombia, and Nigeria have made efforts to bomb pipelines in their respective countries, and pipelines in British Columbia were bombed six times between 2008 and 2009. While pipelines make tempting targets, the United States has not experienced a major attack by an individual or group on its pipelines. According to the CRS report, recent threat assessments indicate that, realistically speaking, the risk of a foreign or domestic terrorist attack on U.S. pipelines is very low.

A series of oversight laws have been passed
Under the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968 (P.L. 90-481) and the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Act of 1979 (P.L. 96-129) state that the Transportation Secretary has authority to regulate the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and response planning for interstate pipelines. A presidential decision during the Clinton administration assigned main responsibility for pipeline security to the Department of Transportation, while the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-355) created an inter-agency committee meant to streamline the review process for new pipelines. The Pipeline Safety Improvement Act also included “whistle blower” protection and required that operators of regulated natural gas pipelines in high-consequence areas to implement risk analysis and management procedures similar to those used for oil pipelines.

Additionally, President Bush established the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in 2004 within the Department of Transportation. President Bush also signed into law the Pipeline Inspection, Protection, Enforcement and Safety Act of 2006 (PIPES Act, P.L. 109-468). This bill created a program of grants given to states for damage prevention efforts. It also mandated a minimum standard for integrity management of natural gas pipelines. Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration was created and given the authority to handle pipeline security operations.

Pipeline safety inspector staffing a challenge
Due to a relative dearth of qualified applicants, delays in the hiring process, and inspector turnover, the PHMSA inspector program is often understaffed. The recession has also affected PHMSA, forcing numerous budget cuts and preventing expanded inspector hiring, according to the CRS.

Automatic shut-off valves not mandated by DOT
The TSA also requires greater resources for pipeline security, since air transportation has received comparatively enormous amounts of money and personnel. In order to more fully secure pipelines, some have argued for the installation of automatic or remote shutoff valves; particularly since the San Bruno incident of 2010 in which a natural gas pipeline exploded, killing eight people. However, the DOT concluded that automatic shutoff valves would not activate in time to stop an explosion and would be susceptible to false alarms. Such installations would also require significant investments in time and capital, and would probably raise transmission rates for all concerned. However, the PHMSA mandated that all single-family homes recieve excess flow valves, which can minimize the amount of natural gas that escapes in the event of a leak.

Some issues still remain. New regulations may be required since oil sands, often imported from Canada, are significantly more corrosive to current pipe materials. Maintenance of accurate, complete, and current pipeline system records is difficult, and debates over the best practices for pipeline inspection continue. Overall, however, industries and federal agencies have generally increased pipeline safety over the past decade.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News; Donate.

Washington ranks in the middle nationally on executions

April 3rd, 2012

According to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington is ranked twenty-fourth among U.S. states in the number of inmates it executed during the years 1930-2010, at 52. However, very few prisoners have received the death penalty in recent years; Washington has executed only five inmates during the years 1977-2010, 22nd of 50 in that time. Texas ranked first, having executed 761 inmates since 1930, and 464 between 1977 and 2010. Data on all 50 states is immediately below, in our visualization based on the BJS report.

Follow the red and blue lines closely with your mouse, to see data on all 50 states.
Source: The Bureau of Justice Statistics

According to a 2008 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute on the costs involved in capital-eligible cases in Maryland, cases in which the death penalty was not sought cost on average over $1.1 million. Cases in which the death penalty was unsuccessfully sought cost on average $1.8 million, while cases in which the death penalty was successfully sought cost an average of $3 million.

A bill to abolish the death penalty in Washington, SB 5456, was introduced last year in the state legislature and reintroduced this year, but failed to advance.

Internationally, the death penalty is still very common, according to a recent report from Amnesty International summarized in The Guardian. Amnesty estimates that China alone executes thousands yearly, although exact statistics are difficult to find. China, North Korea, Yemen, Iran and the United States conduct the greatest number of executions. The United States remains the only G8 nation with a death penalty. In total, according to Amnesty, 139 countries still retain a death penalty and last year, at least 676 executions were carried out by nations other than China, roughly half of which were conducted in Iran.

Public Data Ferret’s Data Visualization archive

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News; Donate.