The U.S. Army Person-Event Data Environment: A Military-Civilian Big Data Enterprise

Date Published: 
May 14th, 2015
Vie, LL, Scheier, LM, Lester, PB, Ho, TE, Labarthe, DR, & Seligman, MEP

This report describes a groundbreaking military–civilian collaboration that benefits from an Army and Department of Defense (DoD) big data business intelligence platform called the Person-Event Data Environment (PDE). The PDE is a consolidated data repository that contains unclassified but sensitive manpower, training, financial, health, and medical records covering U.S. Army personnel (Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard), civilian contractors, and military dependents. These unique data assets provide a veridical timeline capturing each soldier’s military experience from entry to separation from the armed forces. The PDE was designed to afford unprecedented cost-efficiencies by bringing researchers and military scientists to a single computerized repository rather than porting vast data resources to individual laboratories. With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center joined forces with the U.S. Army Research Facilitation Laboratory, forming the scientific backbone of the military–civilian collaboration. This unparalleled opportunity was necessitated by a growing need to learn more about relations between psychological and health assets and health outcomes, including healthcare utilization and costs—issues of major importance for both military and civilian population health. The PDE represents more than 100 times the population size and many times the number of linked variables covered by the nation’s leading sources of population health data (e.g., the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey). Following extensive Army vetting procedures, civilian researchers can mine the PDE’s trove of information using a suite of statistical packages made available in a Citrix Virtual Desktop. A SharePoint collaboration and governance management environment ensures user compliance with federal and DoD regulations concerning human subjects’ protections and also provides a secure portal for multisite collaborations. Taking similarities and differences between military and civilian populations into account, PDE studies can provide much more detailed insight into health-related questions of broad societal concern. Finding ways to make the rich repository of digitized information in the PDE available through military–civilian collaboration can help solve critical medical and behavioral issues affecting the health and well-being of our nations’ military and civilian populations.

Key words: electronic medical records; epidemiology; military; Person-Event Data Environment

Health Assets: 
Physical Activity, Psychological Well-being
Health Conditions: 
Cardiovascular Health, Fitness, General Health, Life Outcomes, Physical Activity, Well-being
Positive Health Type: 
Biological, Functional, Subjective
RWJF Grant-Funded: