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Technology and Politics Tue Jan 03 2012

Chicago Launches New Website to Aid Winter-Preparedness

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office launched a new website today called Chicago Shovels. The goal of the site is to help Chicagoans become engaged in winter-preparedness efforts in the city.

In a press release, Mayor Emanuel said, "Winter preparedness is everyone's responsibility, and when we come together, community by community, block by block, we can help reduce the dangers and health risks that winter weather can bring. ChicagoShovels.org is an important resource that not only informs Chicagoans about how they can help their neighbors, but allows them to see the City's snow program in action during severe weather."

One of the key features of the site is a Plow Tracker that will allow Chicagoans to monitor the City's plows during "major snow cleanup efforts," according to a press release. By using GPS technology to track the plows, Chicagoans will be able to see the progress made in clearing the streets.

According to Kevin Hauswirth, social media director for the Office of the Mayor, this will help with the goal to make the city government more transparent.

The City's open data has also been utilized to create apps that can help people during inclement weather. These apps include 2inch.es, which informs drivers of winter parking bans taking effect, and WasMyCarTowed.com, which uses data on towed and relocated vehicles for people to find their cars.

The website also features a widget with the current weather conditions, forecasted conditions and radar for Chicago.

The main part of the site that is currently active is Snow Corps, which will allow volunteers to be connected with those in need of snow removal, primarily seniors and those with disabilities. Those interested can volunteer by filling out a form on the website.

Hauswirth said that the City is hoping people sign up for Snow Corps right now "so that when we do have a big snow storm people are ready to go."

According to the website, those in need of assistance clearing snow from sidewalks can call 311 and a volunteer will be matched with the request.

ChicagoShovels.org will also have an Adopt-a-Sidewalk program that will allow for Chicagoans to select a sidewalk on an interactive map to "adopt." Users will also be able to see what sidewalks are claimed and connect with their neighbors to keep the sidewalks clear as well as share various snow removal items.

Hauswirth gave a launch date for the Adopt-a-Sidewalk feature as "very soon." The sharing ability will be powered by OhSoWe.com, a site where users share items. The City also utilized its current partnership with Code for America to build the app.

The other features of the website include the ability to submit an online 311 request, sign up for Notify Chicago text message alerts and watch videos.

Although not developed by the city, the Tribune's news applications team created a crowdsourced map during the 2011 blizzard to allow Chicagoans to both find and provide help. According to Hauswirth, the City's inspiration for ChicagoShovels.org was experiences during the blizzard and seeing how neighbors came together to help each other.

"We want to encourage more people to help," Hauswirth said in an interview.

Chicagoans can use most of the site right now as well as sign up to know when Adopt-a-Sidewalk goes live.

 
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