County’s app helps locals beat the heat

County’s app helps locals beat the heat

Benjamin Farniok

A new cell phone app is making it easier for area residents to escape the heat this summer. The app, released last month, pinpoints designated buildings, like the Southeast Library in Dinkytown, for residents to cool off in. Hennepin County officials hope the tool will decrease the number of heat-related health problems while putting useful county data in the hands of the public. The map was first put on the countyâÄôs website in 2014 at the request of the countyâÄôs health department, said Jay Meehl, Hennepin CountyâÄôs Human Services and Public Health Department geographic information systems coordinator and the appâÄôs creator. He said the county later decided to create a mobile-friendly version of the application that would be easier to use. Cool-down spots include Salvation Army locations, public libraries and malls. Movie theaters and recreational centers are also on the list, but some require visitors to pay a fee. The available cool-down sites are open during the day and are air conditioned, Meehl said, adding that county officials plan to expand the list to include museums. âÄúOne person suggested beaches and pools,âÄù he said. âÄúBut the idea was not to give people options that are outside in the heat.âÄù Gary Swenson, Hennepin County geographic information systems manager, said developers created the app as part of a recent push to make county data more accessible. Last year, the county made all geographic data it gathers available to the public. Swenson said other levels of government, like cities and the state, are also beginning to consider ways to make already available data easier to access. Urging residents to find indoor locations for cooling off in the summer can help combat heat-related health issues, William Roberts, University sports medicine professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, said. He said seniors, young children and sick people are least resistant to high temperatures; even healthy individuals are at risk of heat-related problems when out in the sun for long periods of time. People who canâÄôt afford expensive cooling systems are also at risk, he said. Though Southeast Library librarian Eric Heideman wasnâÄôt made aware of the libraryâÄôs designation, he said heâÄôs glad itâÄôll be another reason for residents and students to visit the building. âÄúWe want to be welcoming,âÄù he said, âÄúWe want to be a place where the neighborhood feels comfortable.âÄù