Arson is taking a heavy toll on the city of Detroit over the last few years. In an effort to uncover the true impact of arson on the city, The Detroit News spent three months researching arson reports, obtaining data from multiple sources under the Freedom of Information Act. The results of the investigation were recently published in a special reporting series that included a Caspio-powered online database of approximately 9000 suspicious fires.
Not only does the online database unveil historical arson data available to the public for the very first time, it also provides a powerful tool for Detroit citizens to see which areas of the city have been hit the hardest.
The Detroit News’ digital team wanted to create an interactive application that visualized the number of arsons across different regions in the city, so they imported the fire records into a Caspio database and added a Google map overlaid with a heat map. Readers can search the database either by clicking on a ZIP code on the heat map or by using a dropdown field under the map.
Once the ZIP code is selected, the fire incidents are plotted on the Google map for the reader to drilldown to see the details of each incident.
The application was spearheaded by Tom Gromak, Director of Digital Innovation, and Christine MacDonald, Investigative Reporter at The Detroit News. Using Caspio, they were able to consolidate the raw data into a searchable database and quickly add mapping features.
“Caspio’s online database allowed us to go beyond simply presenting a static image,” Gromak says. “The data visualization allows our readers to drill into their own communities to see the numbers of arsons, the causes, and in some cases, the results of the investigation.”
Gromak and MacDonald built the application themselves and kept adding more functionality throughout the process. Once the data was imported into Caspio, they created a searchable database using the point-and-click wizards and integrated it with Google Maps using Caspio’s map mashup. For the heat map, they used ArcGIS to generate the image and displayed it as a transparent layer on top of the Google map. The app was then configured to pass parameters so that the ZIP code is passed from the image map to the results page. Caspio’s map mashup also helped them add more enhancements such as the custom “fire” pins displayed on the map.
“Caspio has really enhanced our reporting, and I know we’re only scratching the surface of the platform.”
– Tom Gromak, Director of Digital Innovation at The Detroit News
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