Clean Air Week 2020 & the Work of Ireland's EPA
Clean Air Week is an annual, global, awareness-raising campaign designed to inform and educate members of the public about the quality of air in their region and the importance of protecting and, indeed improving that. So far this week, we have seen a host of inspiring projects to mark this important campaign, including green schools initiatives highlighting the damage caused by idling cars at school gates all around the world.
In Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility for managing the national ambient air quality monitoring network. In addition to their monitoring activities, the EPA is also tasked with communicating critical air quality information to the wider public. Access to real-time information about air quality is particularly relevant for at-risk people, including children, elderly persons and anyone with respiratory conditions. Given the critical importance of this information for human health, it must be reliable.
The team at Sonitus Systems recently worked with the EPA to enhance the sharing of real-time data from their national network of monitoring stations, making it easier for people to access and understand the insights available. Part of this work included accessing and making available information gathered through the EPA's local network of monitoring stations also.
As a contemporary, public-facing organisation, the EPA wanted to prioritise the communication of this air quality data to the public in a way that is accessible, helpful and, most importantly, comprehensive. This was achieved by creating a website dedicated to air quality around Ireland, that presents data from their full monitoring network of 84 sites in an engaging and dynamic way. Through the use of modern and responsive design, the Sonitus team ensured that the website was aesthetically-pleasing across all viewing devices. Dynamic elements were incorporated so that pages would automatically update on a regular basis, thus appearing different each time a user visits in order to reflect the changing information.
Significantly, every step of the data processing, from ingesting the readings reported by the monitoring stations, to analysing and interpreting these readings, and then presenting them on the public website is entirely automated. For busy organisations, like our client in this instance, this means there are no unnecessary overheads incurred through managing or operating their monitoring stations or the website.
Making air quality data accessible to everyone
The EPA's Air Quality Index for Health (AQIH) provided the unifying system for presenting air quality on the website. The AQIH is a colour-coded scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best and 10 the worst. This means that you can see at a glance what the air quality is like at any given location, without needing to know exactly what parameters are being measured there or what the most appropriate averaging period is to interpret the data over. The AQIH also comes with associated health advice for both the general public and at-risk groups. Plots of the detailed readings are available to view and download for those who are interested and the Calendar page provides an indication of AQIH ratings over time at each site.
Why Sonitus Systems?
The multidisciplinary team at Sonitus Systems has deep expertise in the interconnected areas of air quality, environmental monitoring (hardware and software), communication of technical information and delivery of cloud-based solutions to facilitate the storage and sharing of information in real time. This multidisciplinary approach allows us to truly understand the issues arising. In fact, a key part of the service that Sonitus Systems provides is centred on taking large volumes of often complex environmental data, and reducing it down to something useful that can be easily communicated to a non-expert audience. Our team has worked extensively with local authorities, giving us a strong understanding of their unique requirements. Over the past decade, we have helped those local authorities to fulfill their noise monitoring obligations and communicate information about noise to the general public. More recently, we have expanded into the area of air quality monitoring and have also worked with councils in the UK to present their air quality data. Regulations in the UK are quite similar to those in Ireland, making the experience we gained largely transferable.
The EPA personnel were invaluable partners in the delivery of this project as they have decades of experience dealing with the public and communicating technical information to the general population in an insightful and actionable way. Also, they regularly field questions from the media and wider public so they know precisely what kind of information people look for, and what the potential pitfalls or sources of confusion are in interpreting it. The Sonitus team also carried out our own user experience testing prior to launch to ensure that the website was easy to navigate and understand.
This partnership approach was nurtured through in-depth meetings with the EPA's air quality team every three or four weeks throughout the development process. We prepared a new draft of the website for each meeting, incorporating the requirements and feedback received from the client during previous meetings or via email. We also took guidance from their web design team to ensure that the look and feel of the website was consistent with their new branding. At the time of the project, the EPA was rebranding so AirQuality.ie is actually the first site to use their new colours/branding! The air quality team helped to ensure that data was analysed and presented correctly, and that it was consistent with their other data feeds, such as Twitter.
Use of Sonitus Cloud
The AirQuality.ie website is powered by the Sonitus Cloud environmental monitoring platform. All air quality data displayed on the front-facing website is processed, stored, and analysed on Sonitus Cloud. In addition to hosting the dynamic website, the EPA's air quality team can also use the platform to manage their monitoring stations and to control what is displayed on the public website. Critically, they can also receive alerts to notify them if any of the stations are offline or if the measurements being reported are outside of specified levels. The intention is to continue to build on and improve the website in the future.
The EPA air quality index for health and real-time results are available at: airquality.ie. For users who would like to learn more, there are also Information pages with content written by the EPA's team. Topics covered include details of the parameters being measured, Air Quality Standards and regulations in Ireland, and information for health professionals about the impacts of air pollution. There are also links to further information and more data on the EPA's main website.
Does your organisation require air quality monitoring? Sonitus Systems offers comprehensive air quality monitoring, using the latest technology and automated systems. We simplify the air monitoring process, giving you access to real-time data and online reporting. For more details on our air quality monitoring products and services, contact the team at Sonitus Systems