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Hacking for Houston 2020: Improving Care in Our Community

Bringing together O&G technical experts and public health professionals

As a proud member of the community, wanted to give back. We created the “Hacking for Houston” event to give the user base a voice for good in the communities in which we live and work. 

Uche Arizor, Team Lead at PHI Lab commented that, “Our mission is to facilitate cross-sector collaboration, creativity, and innovation in public health practice. Partnering with for Hacking for Houston 2020 was a great opportunity to bring people together from the sectors of oil & gas, data science, and public health to work on real issues that HCPH would like to address.” 

All of us were surprised when the night before the hackathon, a water main burst in downtown Houston. The 610 East Loop was closed for several hours due to flooding. Our team exchanged e-mails to decide if we needed to cancel the hackathon, but felt reluctant to do so, after all the hard work put into organizing the event with our partner, the Public Health Innovations Lab (PHI Lab) at Harris County Public Health. Employees arrived early and decided to press on with the Hackathon; we are so glad that we did!  

We encouraged anyone with a passion for data science to attend, especially our clients and partners, as well as university students in data science and public health. We were unsure if attendees would still be able to join us in light of the water main break—but even the turnout for the optional two-hour morning workshop was fantastic. Shota Ota, Support Engineer, and Jason May, Data Scientist at covered tools and topics useful for the Hackathon. 

After lunch, the hackathon began with a high-intensity couple of hours where participants worked in teams of 1-3 people to build and code projects. Teams were not restricted to any particular software or tools to implement their solutions and people deployed a variety of tools including Power BI, Spotfire, R, python, ArcGIS, Excel, Jupyter notebooks, and even open-sourced 3D visualization software. 

Three Challenges were laid out to participants, each with actual data provided by HCPH. Teams then chose one of the available challenges to work on during the event. 

Go Upstream for Downstream Costs


  • Identify the rates of preventable hospitalization types and charges from zip codes with the highest rates of preventable visits.  
  • Create profiles of select zip codes that explore trends in socio-demographics, health outcomes, and issues in health care access.   

Increase Government Efficiency


  • Model the overlap and gap of services provided by current facility locations based on community need (population density, poor health outcomes, etc.) 
  • Identify pilot sites for the co-location of public health, clinical health, and mental health services, while justifying community needs around the site. 
  • Explore the impact of other public and private facilities that may offer similar services in affected communities.   

Reducing West Nile virus (WNV) Disease Risk


  • Use disease, mosquito, environmental and population data from the past 4 years, to develop a model that predicts areas in Harris County at higher risk for WNV disease transmission compared to others.   
  • Identify the key factors that influence WNV disease risk in Harris County as a whole or in different clustered communities. 

At 5 pm, each team gave a 5-minute presentation or “pitch” to the panel of judges and other participants. Their projects were judged according to four categories: communication, technical achievement, creativity, and aesthetic. Our 2020 judges included: 

The judges were impressed by all the teams and how much they were able to accomplish in just four hours. Each team presented their findings and their recommendations for HCPH. The winning team consisted of Callie Hall from the Houston Health Department, Elena Feofanova, a PhD candidate at UT Health, and Alex Lach, a reservoir engineer at Oxy. Their team chose Challenge 2, Increase Government Efficiency, and combined outstanding data analysis with a great pitch.  

Dr. Beckham, Director of the Office of Science, Surveillance, and Technology at HCPH, said, “The hackathon was a great way to network with future leaders and address public health issues in a creative and innovative way. Information taken back will be implemented to assist with making better business decisions to provide services to Harris County residents. It was a great opportunity for government (HCPH) and private industry ( to work together for equity and better health outcomes for the community.” 

The success of Hacking for Houston 2020 made it an easy decision for us to bring it back in the future. If you missed the event, joined the Community to stay up to date and hear about our next hackathon. 

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