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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Big Data and new hurricane flood zone maps and tables

The beginning of June marked the beginning of hurricane season. It also saw the release of an important new set of BLS maps and tables showing employment, wages, and establishment counts in hurricane flood zones on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

This new product was developed by the staff of the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). The QCEW is the BLS “Big Data” program, using 9.2 million reports submitted quarterly by almost every employer in the United States, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The QCEW program has been producing maps of economic activity in disaster areas since 2001, when it created zip code maps and tables of lower Manhattan after the events of 9/11. Until now, maps like this were created after an event had already occurred.

Now, BLS is providing information on the potential economic damage for businesses and jobs before a hurricane or other weather event approaches the U.S. coastline.

As part of their work in response to Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012, QCEW staff learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains hurricane flood zone maps for most of the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Seaboard states. (Some states maintain their own map sets.) The QCEW employer file was matched against the flood maps using geographic information systems software. The matched records were used to create the new maps and tables.

These maps and tables are now available for the public to examine before or after a hurricane. Within BLS, we share the matched records among BLS business surveys for research into the data collection and economic effects of a storm. BLS also provides the matched records to state labor market information offices to use for their statistical analysis and emergency response.

I view this special project as a base for future BLS Big Data projects using the QCEW employer file. This project also is a good example of how BLS is trying to find new ways to combine existing datasets to reveal new insights and products. I invite you to explore this new product and share with me your thoughts on how BLS can do more in the area of Big Data.