U-Penn School of Medicine Partners with Avencia

U-Penn School of Medicine Partners with Avencia


USA – Gunshot injury is the leading cause of death in 10-19 year old African American males and the second leading cause of adolescent death overall. Assaultive injuries appear as the end result of a causative web of factors that include alcohol, firearms, and dangerous urban environments. Yet, little is known about the epidemiology of assaultive injury from guns and others weapons among adolescents.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (UPENN), School of Medicine, have set out to learn whether things adolescents do and places they go are associated with whether they will be the victim of violence. They have partnered with Avencia Incorporated, a Philadelphia-based geospatial software design company, to create an activity tracking software tool (STARS Travel Path) that will help health care professionals guide adolescents injured in an assault through the process of reconstructing the series of events and encounters in the 24-hour time period preceding the assault.

The project, the Space-Time Adolescent Risk Study (STARS) led by Douglas Wiebe and Charles Branas of the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and Therese Richmond from the UPENN School of Nursing, aims to identify key behavioral and environmental factors that put young people ages 10-19 at risk for being assaulted, thereby spearheading an innovative application of epidemiological space-time modeling. The project is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Using laptop computers on which the STARS application has been installed, trained interviewers work with each victim to record the victim’s verbal account of his or her activities by placing digital markers indicating the location of each significant activity, on a street map or high-resolution satellite photo.

The interviewer is able to accurately assign times to the markers on a victim’s map – including the assault event – based on factors such as the victim’s mode of transportation to or from each event, speed of movement, interruptions, and other environmental factors. The interviewer also inputs key data on whether the victim possessed a gun or consumed drugs and/or alcohol at any time in the 24 hours prior to the assault. Typically, 80-100 points of activity are recorded on each victim’s map. Visually mapping a verbal account of activities provides researchers with a powerful tool that aids in accurately recording complex space/time data.

“Epidemiologic research of this type – that aims to identify risk factors for injury – has typically collected data for only the time at which the injury occurred. We expect that the activities that lead up to an assault are equally important to consider. This application lets us do this by recreating adolescents’ moment-to-moment paths with a high degree of spatial and temporal accuracy. An additional plus is that the mapping interface seems to help keep participants engaged during the interview process.” — Doug Wiebe, University of Pennsylvania Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics

Avencia has years of experience developing health and crime-related mapping, reporting and analysis software applications. This is the second time the company is involved in a project involving adolescent-related violence issues.

While working with The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), the company created the Socioeconomic Mapping and Resource Topography (SMART) system – an online application that enables users to map and analyze aggregated community data along with resource information about federally-funded programs to address juvenile delinquency and crime.

“We are proud to continue our geospatial analysis work related to public safety, public health and crime analysis. This is the first time Avencia is involved in a project that deals with the geographic epidemiology of assault. The UPENN’s STARS project is an initiative that we believe will produce research that will help us learn more about the geographic structure of violence and suggest ways in which we may be able to reduce its impact on our communities.” – Robert Cheetham, President and CEO, Avencia.