Hacktivists Work to Protect Chicago’s South Side

Hacktivists Work to Protect Chicago’s South Side

A large mound of petcoke in a residential Chicago neighborhood (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

In another front on civic tech for public good, Chicago hacktivists are taking a stand for citizens’ health.

Last winter, I posted about how Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel put his foot down against the Koch brothers regarding petroleum coke. Also called petcoke, it’s a byproduct of the oil refining process linked to severe health risks for those who breathe it in, in this case, residents of Chicago’s Far South Side, where it’s stored.

Now, Chicago hacktivists are aiming to protect these residents with petcokealerts.org. Chicago’s Tenth Ward residents can sign up on the new website to receive text message updates when windy conditions increase their exposure to petcoke. According to news site eNews Park Forest:

Residents can visit www.petcokealerts.org and input their cell phone number to receive notifications during high wind conditions, defined by the Chicago Department of Public Health as 15 miles per hour. Future plans for the application include direct measurement of air quality in the vicinity of the terminals and a Spanish translation of the site.

“We wanted to create a tool to help residents make decisions about protecting themselves when the weather conditions present a hazard,” said Ben Wilhelm from Chi Hack Night, one of the programmers for the site. “We’ve open-sourced the project with the hope that other areas dealing with similar situations can benefit from it or collaborate with us.”

Chicago isn’t the only place where coders are taking big data into their own hands to improve cities. Seattle tech experts tackled transportation problems at a hackathon earlier this year.

Jenn Stanley is a freelance journalist, essayist and independent producer living in Chicago. She has an M.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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Tags: technologyenvironmentpollutionair quality

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