The Dashletes: The team behind the N.B. COVID dashboard

·3 min read
The Dashletes have been running the New Brunswick COVID-19 dashboard behind the scenes. Team leader Robert Harris is in foreground at left. (Submitted by Robert Harris - image credit)
The Dashletes have been running the New Brunswick COVID-19 dashboard behind the scenes. Team leader Robert Harris is in foreground at left. (Submitted by Robert Harris - image credit)

For more than a year, the New Brunswick COVID-19 dashboard has been a source of data during the pandemic, including case counts, the number of tests conducted daily, border-crossing traffic, rule violations, and vaccination rates.

Believe it or not, these numbers don't organize and collect themselves. A team of geomatics analysts, people who specialize in processing, organizing and distributing data, has been taking on the task behind the scenes.

These employees of the Public Safety Department call themselves the Dashletes.

The team lead for the Dashletes is Robert Harris, the geomatics manager for NB 9-1-1 and the person responsible for the province's geo-operations unit, which handles data for Public Safety.

Right for the job

"They work every day to keep the province's 911 service up-to-date," Harris told Information Morning Saint John. "They help make sure our operators across the province have the data they need to get their job done."

He said the team provides mapping and location intelligence to emergency services during floods, fires, ice storms and other events, so naturally they were chosen for the job of providing COVID-19 data to the general public.

"Normally, the work we do stays behind the scenes and it's geared towards emergency managers or senior officials, so it was a nice change to be able to showcase our skills," said Harris.

"We're actually very fortunate, both in our daily work with 911 and dashboard work, we get to know the direct result of our hard work."

Screenshot of the New Brunswick COVID-19 Dashboard
Screenshot of the New Brunswick COVID-19 Dashboard

Harris said the team connects with colleagues at Public Health, the regional health authorities, and the federal government to collect data needed for the dashboard.

The dashboard also requires data from the New Brunswick border and compliance and inspection workers.

Harris said the process of getting the dashboard up and running was labour-intensive and included managing all of the data needed, organizing the data and developing a smooth process.

"We were getting a lot of data coming at us really fast, from a lot of different places," he said.

Some late-night hours

Harris said the team had to create templates for how all of the collaborating parties could provide data in an organized way and make sure data was of high quality.

Once that was complete, the process became streamlined, even once the province encountered an influx of cases in the fall and winter.

Harris said the process can still be complicated in some instances, such as when a health zone changes colour, because the Dashletes perform a host of additional fact checks

"When things change at midnight, usually one of the members of my team is up at midnight to make sure everything works smoothly," he said.

Harris said the official Dashletes team hadn't met in person until just recently at a work dinner.

Won't last forever

The NB 911 staff were scattered when COVID-19 hit with about half working remotely.

Harris said there are now six Dashletes at once who alternate between dashboard work and regular NB 911 duty.

But how long the team will have to keep working on the dashboard isn't clear.

The government hopes to be able to lift the emergency order, and all pandemic-related restrictions, on Aug. 2 if its vaccination target is met.

Harris said the dashboard will be retired when the data are no longer needed, but the decision will be up to the Department of Health.