Data scientist Brad Bottom’s passion for the geospatial and data science world have taken him across six continents in the last ten years. With projects ranging from flood exposure to habitat modeling, Brad’s expertise in using data to tackle complex social and environmental issues continues to guide his work at the Center for Social Solutions today.

Brad’s interest in geospatial work was initially sparked by his experiences in the humanities and social sciences. Beginning as a history and anthropology major in college, Brad was intrigued by the intersection between place and human communities.

“I was fascinated with the history of how the world had changed over the years and what moments in time sparked massive shifts. Over time, I started noticing that the common trait amongst many of these events was place. I started focusing on the intersection of people and place throughout time and in current years as a lens for the world. Through that I started realizing how intersecting elements of information provided answers that were before unknown or not yet understood.”

Drawn to this notion of place and community, Brad pursued a B.Sc. in geography, with minors in anthropology and global studies from Middle Tennessee State University. He then went on to get a graduate certificate in geospatial intelligence from Penn State, and a M.Sc. GIS with a focus on environmental management from the University of Southampton. His master’s dissertation on monitoring habitat loss for tigers using automated machine learning processes with free and open source data, is a project that Brad continues to develop today.

As a geographer and data scientist, Brad has pursued a wide range of global projects throughout his career in roles with the federal government, local government, private industry, and consultancies to NGOs. 

One of the experiences that Brad has found most significant during this time has been his work on response phase disasters in the United States. As a lead geospatial analyst supporting projects with FEMA, Brad was able to help craft new hazard models in the response phase of events that were able to expedite the release of finances and commodities from the federal government to those in need. During this time he also developed a new methodology to more accurately estimate population impacts of disasters beyond using census data by estimating areas unsuitable for habitation and utilizing a population allocation model to spread populations among geographies accordingly.

“Seeing disasters unfold as they are happening and trying to respond with whatever information is available really opened my eyes to how far we still have to go in this realm. Continuing to do that at a global scale just compounded the issue for me and made me really want to focus on fast, efficient, and effective solutions for disaster support.”

In addition to his work with FEMA, Brad has worked on a variety of disaster response, recovery, and mitigation efforts worldwide with significant projects in Vietnam, South Africa, Nepal, Myanmar. In particular, his work has focused on utilizing innovative datasets and methodologies to estimate risk in data deficient areas. Brad similarly has significant experience utilizing data to help measure economic development and policy impacts especially in areas of the world that have difficulty releasing timely and accurate economic data. 

“The types of projects I enjoy working on the most right now are ones in which I can use open data and open source technologies to produce. I really enjoy doing these because it makes it very easy for me to share my work and also to make the work scalable since the data and softwares are available to all,” Brad says.
Brad’s interest in using data to create meaningful change is what drew him to the Center for Social Solutions. As a data scientist, Brad turns data into usable information to find unseen connections and correlations related to the Center’s four initiatives - water equity and access, diversity, slavery, and the future of work.

“The problems the Center is focusing on are critical to our success as a society. The Center’s holistic research that looks at past events and how they affect our current situation and their forward looking research on future problems on the horizon played an important role in my interests. Understanding our past, our current situation, and our future are critical components to our future success.”

Outside of work, travel plays a key role in shaping Brad’s career and interests. Brad greatly enjoys exploring new places and assisting in disaster support programs worldwide. He has spent time with several nonprofits and NGO’s doing analysis on disaster situations and collecting vital data for disaster relief. Recently Brad spent six months traveling abroad to places that he has helped support remotely for disaster support and habitat modelling, saying “It really changed my perspective on what is truly important to people.”

Going forward, Brad hopes to continue working towards creating meaningful change through his work. In particular he hopes to focus on equitable disaster response and resilience by leading initiatives on portraying the effects of disasters on all members of society that are not drawn from monetary values which prioritize those that have something to lose in the first place. 

“At every turn we are finding new ways to make data work for us. I enjoy being on the forefront of these initiatives, making sure that they stay on a track that has the most positive impact on the world.”