Tag Archives: Data collection

Noise Pollution and Health in the Urban Environment: A Pilot Project

In October 2013, the Seattle Indian Health Board’s (SIHB’s) Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) completed a noise pollution pilot study. The goals of this project were: 1) to evaluate the feasibility of community data collection and analysis via a low cost GPS/GIS workflow, and 2) to offer recommendations on the feasibility and next steps for scalability to the larger Urban Indian Health Organization (UIHO) network. The collected data could additionally illustrate community health needs when merged with health or other contextual data for analysis, but these analyses were not the primary focus of this pilot. We chose to look at noise pollution because it is an environmental health concern that has been linked to a variety of health conditions in both occupational and community studies and it is easy to measure with portable devices.

For field data collection, we used an iPad Mini with the GISPro and Decibel 10th apps. For mapping and spatial analysis, we used the open source desktop GIS software QGIS (www.qgis.org). While GISPro is a paid iPad app, the other programs are free. Data collection participants were staff recruited from the SIHB’s administrative, clinical and UIHI departments. We selected participants from this pool because they are representative of the staff at UIHOs who likely have limited experience with data collection and GIS. UIHI project staff trained seven participants in the iPad workflow and data collection process. This workflow consisted of five steps: 1) collect noise data with Decibel 10th, 2) export noise data via email, 3) take a site picture, 4) collect GIS data with GISPro and 5) export that GIS data.

Select pictures of data collection sites, taken by study participants using an iPad Mini; Seattle, WA

Select pictures of data collection sites, taken by study participants using an iPad Mini; Seattle, WA

When the volunteer participants were finished with data collection, project staff compiled and analyzed the data using QGIS and Stata. Data were merged with socioeconomic indicators from the American Community Survey by zip code. Participating staff were asked for their feedback about their experience and the usability of the tools.

Average decibel reading at the 17 data collection sites and per capita income of zip codes, location of the Seattle Indian Health Board indicated by yellow star; Seattle, WA; October 2013

Average decibel reading at the 17 data collection sites and per capita income of zip codes, location of the Seattle Indian Health Board indicated by yellow star; Seattle, WA; October 2013

That feedback, combined with the experience of project staff, suggested that the GIS software tools were user-friendly and highly effective. Thus, they are likely to be attractive to organizations with limited technology budgets. However, some of the other resources necessary for this project (i.e. the GISPro mapping app, the iPad and general GIS software expertise) are expensive and may be limitations for many UIHOs. In the future, the UIHI would like to use these tools to better understand the health of the community, as well as assist UIHOs in conducting similar projects in their service area.

For more information about this project, view the project brief at http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/GIS-Project-Brief_20140604.pdf.

The UIHI is a division of the SIHB and is one of 12 Indian Health Service tribal epidemiology centers (TECs). Unlike the other TECs that focus on geography-specific tribal populations, the UIHI is national in scope, focusing on American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) living in urban areas. The UIHI supports the efforts of Urban Indian Health Organizations (UIHOs) nationally, as they serve the health and social support needs of their urban AI/AN communities.

The Center for Public Service Communications and the National Library of Medicine provided funding for the UIHI to complete this project.

Field Data Collection

The workflow covered in the Introduction included three phases: 1) Field Data Collection, 2) Desktop Analysis, and 3) Data Visualization. Here we’ll discuss phase 1.

We encourage the use of smart phones and tablets for data collection for these reasons:

  • Most already have them!
  • Many know how to use them
  • They’re intuitive
  • They’re portable
  • Come with an on board GPS receiver (iPhone 5 uses GPS + GLONASS)
  • Have on board cameras
  • Can connect to wireless networks
  • Access to the internet
  • Email is available
  • There’s an app for that!

Equally as important they are accurate enough for most public health community mapping needs.  For a discussion on their accuracy read this post.

There are a myriad of data collection apps available. Part of choosing one comes down to the operating system you are using. We’ll cover the three best apps we found for iOS and Android. Our full report and individual user step by step user manuals for each can be found here.

iOS (Apple iPhones and iPads)

The two best data collection apps for Apples iOS are EpiCollect and GIS Pro. They both allow you to customize the data attributes you collect. One big difference is that EPI Collect is free and GIS Pro, at $299, is the most expensive piece of software we considered in our workflow. However, with that price tag comes a lot of great intuitive functionality.

EpiCollect (available for both iOS and Android)

To get started with EpiCollect you install the app on your device via Apple’s App Store. You then visit the EpiCollect website  and set up a project. Simply give the project a name and design your data collection form. The form can be set up with a variety of attribute columns. For example, feature type, name, description and photo. For most users it takes a practice run to get used to the workflow to set up a data collection form. The second time it goes very smoothly. The project can then be uploaded, via your email address, to your iOS EpiCollect app. Examples of the data collection screen are shown below. On the left is the home screen, on the right is the data collection screen.

EpiCollect Data Collection

EPI Collect Data Collection


After data collection, you can sync the mobile app with the website. The data can then be viewed both on the mobile app or on the website. The website also allows for the spatial data to be exported as either an XML or CSV file. Data collected by EpiCollect is limited to point locations. The data can then be brought into a desktop GIS such as QGIS. This will be covered in a future blog post.


GIS Pro is essentially a lightweight GIS application for iOS. Once purchased a user can have the app on both an iPhone and an iPad. However, each unique user needs their own license. As with EpiCollect, the user can set up custom data collection fields. One additional feature here is that users can collect point, line or polygon (area) data sets within the same project. The data can also be exported in a shapefile format which is then ready to be used by any desktop GIS package. GISPro also allows for sharing of GIS layers. With this feature a team of data collectors can all be working off of the same GIS layer. This is a valuable feature. With the high cost does come great functionality compared to EpiCollect. This was determined to be part of the best workflow and is reviewed more thoroughly in the final report.


GIS Pro – Exporting Data


In addition to EpiCollect, the other great app for Android devices is OpenData Kit, known as ODK Collect. The app is free. It is even more intuitive and makes project management even easier than EpiCollect.

To get started you will use a companion website called FormHub. Simply sign up for a free account and design your form. Here your data collection form is designed in MS Excel, and a template Excel file makes generating your first form easy. Once designed upload your form and sync your device to your account and you are ready to collect data. On the device the data collection form presents itself as a series of pages for each question.

ODK Collect Workflow

ODK Collect Workflow

When you are back in range of a network simply sync the app with your account. The data will then be available for download from the website in several formats.


These are the best apps we found out of dozens reviewed. All three were successfully tested in 2013 by our partners were found to work well. For additional reading download the full report . Step by step user manuals for each can be found here.