On air: broadcasting quality to the public
Cameron Stathers explores how technology can help local authorities keep their communities informed about air quality issues
Under Part IV of the 1995 Environmental Protection Act, local authorities have a duty to inform their communities about local air quality. Websites and other electronic media play an important part in a LA’s commitment to e-government, a process that sees a range of council services and information made available over the internet.
Integrated software solutions can provide a seamless transfer of air quality information from a LA’s air quality stations to websites, public display systems or even variable message road signs. This transfer of data is centred around sophisticated software packages which authorities can use to collect their own air quality data, which is then made available electronically in an easy-to-use manner.
As well as offering such a package – Enview 2000 – Casella ETi also manages a national public information website that enables subscribers to have their real-time air quality data regularly posted to their own local website home page. Currently there are over 20 local authorities using this service. The data from subscribers’ sites is checked by experts at least twice a day, enabling any problems to be identified and promptly acted upon.
Bespoke software solutions can also be supplied for those individuals or groups of LAs that would prefer their own website – authorities such as the Tyne & Wear Pollution Group have taken advantage of this approach. The Group was the first regional air pollution group to have a live air quality data website in the country. This site provides local people with the latest details on air quality over the whole region, and also acts as an air quality information resource.
Other local authorities, for instance Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council, have utilised Enview 2000 in a different way, by sending air quality data direct to two large public display screens. In the case of Doncaster MBC, one screen is located in the main council reception area and the other in a building where the majority of council meetings are held.
Both screens display the same data and allow members of the public without direct web access to be kept informed about local air quality levels and issues. Other potential sites for this type of display include public libraries and council information centres.
For anyone badly affected by air quality – asthmatics, for instance, or people with heart problems – it is important to be aware if a pollution episode is happening or about to occur. Hospitals, specialist respiratory units and GP surgeries would therefore be ideal display sites. With this is mind, Casella ETi has also developed an SMS messaging system which can automatically send a text message to a person at risk when any pre-set air quality alarm threshold is breached.
Taking to the road
As road traffic is the major contributory factor to poor urban air quality, one local authority – Warrington MBC – has decided to use the Enview 2000 software system to display real-time air quality data on a large number of roadside variable message signs located throughout the town.
Casella ETi can supply a specific piece of software to enable this to take place – the software transfers the air quality data to the system controlling the signs, where it is translated into an appropriate display message which drivers must heed.