Where's My Catch Basin? Another Reason We Need Open Data from City Hall

My housemate and I went out last night to clear our local catch basins.

We knew where one was, buried under a thick coat of packed ice at least 10 centimetres thick in front of our house. It took a lot of hacking at the ice to clear the catch basin, but we did.

We then turned to finding the other we know is on the street, somewhere along the street front of a large vacant property near us.

The problem? We couldn’t remember where it was, and the curb lane is covered in four feet of thick ice-packed snow.

Open Data offers the solution.

I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if the City shared with us the location of storm grates?

Because we don’t know where us catch basin is, we’re not able to clear it like the City is asking for us to.

I wrote in 2011 saying the City should release the location of fire hydrants to enable residents to “Adopt a Hydrant” during the winter to assist the Hamilton Fire Department to prioritize their checks of all the City’s hydrants.

When someone reports they’ve shoveled a hydrant, the department receives one report. When others shovel nearby hydrants, the Fire Department can focus their first checks upon areas where they don’t know the status of hydrants.

Adopt a Catch Basin

Adopt A Hydrant can be quickly modified to use the location of catch basins.

Imagine… a City Hall where public information is made public automatically. A City Hall where the location of catch basins – which aren’t exactly secrets – was available as an open data set.

Then, imagine this City Hall has an open data office that supports and builds a network of civic volunteer developers.

Now, this City has a threat of flooding during a mid-winter thaw with a rainfall warning expected. (What Hamilton is experiencing right now)

City Hall asks people to clear catch basis. The City’s open data office posts a tweet “Looking to modify Adopt-A-Hydrant to catch basins, help prevent flooding”, “Pull the code on our GitHub http://t.co/example, join our team G+ Hangout”.

As this City is already using Adopt-A-Hydrant, they have all the localization work done. Being an ‘Open’ City, that code is already existing on the City’s open data office’s Github page.

An hour after the initial City statement, the City puts out an update asking residents to “Adopt a Catch Basin” and help the City prioritize limited staff and resources. People can also report catch basins that are covered by huge mounds of snow that need a Bobcat to clear.

Residents can see what catch basins are not clear in their neighbourhood, and go a block or two from their home to “adopt” an “orphaned” catch basin.

By the next morning, thousands of catch basins have been cleared. More importantly, the City is now able to send crews to the catch basins that are not clear.

The end result: less flooding, and hopefully little to no flooding where it would’ve occurred without a true collaboration between the City and it’s residents.

Back to Hamilton

Unfortunately, in Hamilton at present, we – residents – don’t have access to our data.

Because of lack of our data from City Hall, I’ll have to watch for the snow to melt a bit and hope it reveals the outline of the catch basis up the street from me, before flooding occurs.

Yet another example of why City Hall needs an open data office and more open data.

Dear City Hall, we want to help. Will you let us?