Fear – or planning to help prevent fear and mass infections – led to its creation. But the end result is a new dimension in mapping, and the web-based tool was created in RTP at RTI International.

Think of it as Google Maps – but more detailed and concerned with privacy.

Funded by the federal government as part of a bioterrorism defense program, RTI developed the “synthetic population viewer” provides household data across the country down to “microcommunities.”

The interactive, incredibly detailed viewer is based on the American Community Survey conducted by the federal government between 2005-2009 and includes data from more than 112 million households across all 50 states plus Washington, D.C.

RTI unveiled the project Thursday.

“This new era of complex, synthetic household data enables fine-scale, multidimensional demographic patterns and microcommunities to emerge from simple-to-use, web-based maps,” said Bill Wheaton, director of RTI’s Geospatial Science and Technology program. “It’s a rich tool for anyone interested in exploring the amazing diversity of human household populations in the U.S.”

How detailed is it?

“The data represent the reality of the U.S. household population very well. By representing each and every household as a point on the map, a wealth of complex patterns becomes apparent,” Wheaton said.

However, he pointed out that the map’s creators were concerned with privacy/

“In order to protect privacy, the interactive map doesn’t show actual households in their exact locations like Google Earth,” he said. “Nonetheless, the data represent real households in reasonably accurate detail, enabling the map to show complex population distributions.”

RTI noted in the announcement that users of the web site can ”see stark racial boundaries, subtle shifts in income, and intricate patterns of race, age, household size and income for any location in the United States.”

Access to the map is free.

RTI believes it will be used by geographic information service professionals to students to people “simply interested in looking at population patterns.”

The project was funded as part of the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (known as MIDAS), which is a bioterrorism defense initiative.