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Programming for the masses

Innovator of the Year

Ryan Eckdale-Dudley, Symbiont Science Engineering and Construction Inc.

Ryan Eckdale-Dudley

Ryan Eckdale-Dudley

The concept was simple enough: Provide the citizens of Elkhart County, Ind., with easy access to publicly available information and improve awareness of potential health risks and quality of life issues.

But translating that to an easy-to-use digital system was not something county officials were qualified to do.

“I’m not computer-trained in any way,” said John Hulewicz, environmental health supervisor for the Elkhart County Health Department. “I needed someone who was able to take my idea and put it into practical, applicable usage.”

So, the county called in Ryan Eckdale-Dudley, geographic information system coordinator for Symbiont Science Engineering and Construction Inc., West Allis, to complete the technical and logistical aspects of the project. He took the wide range of information from the county and created “What’s In My Backyard,” a Web-based geographic information system that lets people evaluate potential health risks in their community through an interactive map.

Users also can consider nearby features both positive and negative. Positive features include schools, golf courses and recreational trails. Negative features include where violent offenders live.

“WIMBY gives residents an easy vehicle to explore their neighborhood,” Hulewicz said. “Not everyone is great at Googling or making sense out of data. This information has been consolidated into one location.”

In addition to WIMBY, Eckdale-Dudley also developed e-Atlas, a brownfield database and mapping tool that helps Elkhart County residents search for information about potential hazards at former industrial or commercial properties that may be contaminated.

Eckdale-Dudley scanned and digitized more than 40 file drawers of handwritten notes and forms during the creation of e-Atlas, said Laura Coyne, redevelopment coordinator for Elkhart County. The resulting system made it easier for residents and Elkhart County workers to research and map brownfields, she said. It’s also helped Elkhart County officials identify potential brownfield development areas in a more efficient manner.

“Ryan’s an astoundingly left- and right-brained thinker, thus he was able to look at the big picture and put a finely crafted digital system together,” Coyne said.  “e-Atlas is something that any community can use to develop a brownfield inventory.”

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