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Louisville hackers develop wireless smoke detectors for vacant, abandoned properties

Louisville Metro Government began late last month installing locally created, low-cost wireless smoke detectors in vacant and abandoned properties, in an innovative way to reduce fire risk.

The city’s Innovation Delivery Team is guiding this one-of-a-kind project, with support from Louisville Fire, the Vacant and Public Property Administration, and Codes & Regulations.

The smoke detectors, which use a cellular 3G wireless connection to alert authorities when a fire erupts in a vacant and abandoned property, were created through a partnership with local civic hackers. The idea is to avoid devastating fires and protect homes located nearby.

“This project represents the best of what ‘Smart City’ technology can be for Louisville,” said Grace Simrall, Chief of Civic Innovation.

“This innovative technology is the result of the local tech community and Metro Government working together to solve a real problem for residents living near vacant properties. We want innovation and technology in our community to benefit all of our residents, and this pilot project is a step in the right direction.”

Fires in vacant and abandoned properties tend to cause greater damage because they’re not reported as quickly as blazes in occupied homes. The fires often spread to neighboring occupied homes. The issue of fires in vacant and abandoned properties is particularly pronounced in Louisville Fire’s District 1, which includes parts of west Louisville.

Using Louisville Fire data, the Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation found that 44 percent of the fires in Fire District 1 that became “involved” (2 or more structures) between 2012 and 2015 started in a vacant property.

Seeing an opportunity to innovate a solution, Louisville Metro Government enlisted help from the maker space LVL1, which in turn hosted a hackathon of local civic hackers and makers.

Civic hackers Nathan Armentrout, James Gissendaner and David Jokinen developed the product and software to run it, with an end cost of $150 per smoke detector, which are expected to work for up to 10 years.

"This new, innovative tool will provide quicker alarm notifications to fires at our city's vacant properties," said Laura Grabowski, director of the Vacant & Public Property Administration. "With this technology, we hope to contain these fires and provide more safety for neighbors of vacant properties. This project would not be possible without the teamwork of multiple Metro departments and the civic hackers who created the wireless smoke detectors."


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