Interview with Bart van Leeuwen


Bart combines more than 20 years of experience as an operational firefighter in the Netherlands with 20 years of leading Netage B.V., an SME delivering Smart Data for Smarter Firefighters. Bart holds a guest researcher position at Vrije Universtiteit Amsterdam where he combines his practical experience with research topics to guide students who are interested in the field of emergency response and knowledge management.


What is your biggest fear?

I'm afraid that something will happen to me as a Firefighter; or to one of my colleagues; or the people we are trying to help; and that afterwards we find out that the information to prevent this from happening was around, but not available to us at the time.

How can open data & knowledge graphs address that problem?

The availability of data and open data can improve the information status of fire services, not only on an operational level but also during preparation and prevention.

Fire is never an issue that concerns only one single institution - the people most likely to be hurt by fire are also interact more frequently with other government bodies. Since our profession is based on knowledge and experience, we need systems that support the sharing of knowledge. Not just within the fire services, it is essential that other institutions are involved to ensure safe living environments for the people we serve.

How can government agencies and other data owners help this effort with the data they gather?

To improve the sharing of knowledge between institutions a solid base registry of information is needed, government agencies who are the defacto authorities on pieces of information should maintain a set of persistent identifiers for the entities they govern, e.g. companies in company registers or buildings in building registers. This helps other institutions, both government and private, to reference these entities. By using the authority governed persistent identifiers, data sets, both open and closed (!), can refer to the same entity and thus enable the generation of linkage and knowledge.

There are multiple graph databases out there, why did you decide to work with the W3C RDF stack?

By design, the W3C RDF stack uses the notion of persistent identifiers on the largest man-made infrastructure in use today - the internet. The idea of using URIs (Links) as persistent identifiers makes the linking and combination referred to in the previous question easy to do. Furthermore, the URIs created by the governing bodies automatically provide them with the authority over the information.
Additionally, the W3C RDF stack provides a whole array of accompanying standards which help to use the technology on different vendor platforms without creating a vendor lock in. This allows government agencies to not be sucked into a specific vendors realm, but concentrate on the publishing of valid authorative information.