City Makes Communities Safer By Optimizing Needle Collection

City Makes Communities Safer By Optimizing Needle Collection

Recognizing the power that data and analytics have to improve outcomes for staff and residents, the City of Edmonton created the Analytics Centre of Excellence (ACE). Here’s a story about how ACE turned analytics into action.

Needles and needle debris are a challenging issue for communities all over the world and Edmonton is no exception. To ensure public safety, Edmonton has adopted strategies in use across the globe. One such strategy is to deploy safe needle boxes around the community so that people can dispose of needles safely. This strategy became the the Safe Needle Box program, a cooperation that involves the City of Edmonton and several community organizations (needle exchange services, addictions services, health services, police services etc.). However, it was noticed that the number of discarded needles was rising, so the City’s Citizen Services Department reached out to ACE. 

After collecting all of the data and conducting interviews with all of the players involved, ACE worked with the Safe Needle Box program to:

  1. Data Optimization: As mentioned above, there are many organizations involved in this arena: needle exchange services, addictions services, health services, police services and of course the City. So the first step was to work with all of these different organizations to gather all of the data into one place and consolidate it into a usable set.
  2. Box Placement Optimization: With everyone’s data, ACE was able to not only select the optimal locations for the boxes currently, but also predict where needle boxes will likely be needed in the near future.
  3. Route Optimization: Now that ACE had laid out the optimal box locations the next step was to ensure that City staff were going from box-to-box efficiently.
  4. Schedule Optimization: With not all things being equal, some boxes fill up faster than others, meaning that one box might need to be emptied weekly while another monthly. This was the last piece to ensuring pickup is conducted in the most time and cost efficient manner, resulting in savings of just over six and half grand a year.

Not a bad start but, ACE made even more of an impact regarding reducing the cost of needle pickups. Unfortunately, even with the needle boxes in play, sometimes people find needles just discarded on the ground. If they find one, residents are encouraged to call 311 and the City will have an organization pick them up.  

ACE was able to reduce this cost in two ways.

First, by simply having more needle safe boxes in optimal locations, the number of needles discarded on the ground dropped. We can see how impactful this is by comparing the average cost per incident. If a needle is collected from is needle safe box it only costs about $2 per needle, but if it is collected off the ground, depending on the agency doing it, it costs between $200 to $400 per needle!  

Second, ACE took a look at schedule optimization for the organizations involved. Before, they were available 24 hours a day, but ACE determined that only 6 hours a day is needed to handle the majority of calls. These two improvements resulted in savings of just under $200,000 a year (the equivalent of an 80% cost reduction).      

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