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The tool allows residents to partner with Boston Fire to make sure a specific fire hydrant is cleared of snow.

Through the platform, participants locate one of the more than 13,000 public fire hydrants in the City. They then name it and commit to clearing the hydrant of snow after a snowstorm.

Why we did this

The winter months affect many services in Boston, and snowstorms make things worse.

A snow-covered fire hydrant can take away precious minutes from the Fire Department. A tool that encourages volunteers to help clear hydrants could improve their response to emergencies.

When we created the Adopt-a-Hydrant tool in 2011, we worked with:

The experiment

Our hypothesis? A fun platform that encourages residents to help keep a fire hydrant cleared after a snowstorm will aid the Boston Fire Department.

The City launched Adopt-a-Hydrant in January of 2011. A searchable map of Boston allows residents to find hydrants in the City. Users can adopt unclaimed hydrants, who name these hydrants.

If a hydrant is already adopted, other users can click a button to remind the adoptive volunteer to shovel. The app sends friendly reminders to volunteers when snowstorms hit Boston. Also, the app encourages volunteers to share their good deeds.

Results and lessons learned

Getting people involved
  • About 100 volunteers have used the platform to adopt hydrants.
  • Usage of the Adopt-a-Hydrant tool to this point has been limited, but promising. There’s potential for a large-scale adoption by local neighborhood groups.
Open-source civic software

The tool features a clear purpose and easily reusable code. For that reason, Adopt-a-Hydrant is a primary example of how open-source civic software can spread across across the country. Other cities can now adapt the tool to their own needs.

For example, the City of Honolulu has used the Adopt-a-Hydrant model to launch its own Adopt-a-Siren tool. Their app asks for residents' help in testing tsunami sirens across the island.

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