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Public Portals and the Value of Community Engagement

Updated: May 5, 2022

Air Pollution in Communities

cars parked on a street

Air quality in communities can be affected by various activities. Burning wood to heat homes creates increased volumes of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and traffic congestion on busy roads creates emissions from exhausts, contributing to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 concentrations. With the ability to disperse into the wider area, harmful gases and particulates can affect whole neighbourhoods by infiltrating the air outside of homes, schools, hospitals and other areas of public realm.

When there’s a spike in polluting activities, those who are environmentally sensitive can seriously suffer. Children can suffer from stunted development which impacts them as they grow older, the elderly are put at increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems, and those with existing health problems can experience worsened symptoms.

So, what can be done to tackle air pollution at a large scale when the best results are often achieved through a collaborative response from hundreds if not thousands of residents and commuters living in, and using a community?

What is a Public Portal?

This is where public portals come into their own. They essentially do what they say on the tin – they’re online portals that can be accessed by members of the public to provide the appropriate information which can be easily understood and consumed. These might be for viewing air quality levels, for booking gym classes, or searching marketplaces.

In the context of air quality, our public portals are offered through the MyAir® web application, [GL1] the hub for real-time, historic and forecast, accurate, reliable air quality data. Publicly available data is also available through our bespoke mobile phone applications. To deliver air pollution information to the public, the likes of local authorities and educational facilities can (optionally) deploy Zephyr® air quality monitor(s) for collating live ambient air pollution measurements. MappAir® modelling data is also available for providing visualisations of the necessary pollution species and up to 72-hour forecasts. This data is then represented within the portal for the public to access online for their local area.

Guidance about how individuals can help to improve the levels of air quality in their area and advice about how those who are vulnerable should manage their exposure is also readily available on the portals. Through the internet, public portals deliver the crucial data needed for encouraging behaviours towards cleaner air.

The Value of Engaging Communities with Public Portals

people cycling on a street

Ultimately, we can’t expect change without knowledge and support, which is why community engagement is so valuable for environmental changes.

Engaging whole communities can help towards the large-scale changes needed for better air quality. By providing members of the public with data for current and future air quality conditions, public portals can change how they decide to travel as well as acting as a learning tool to teach them about some of their activities which otherwise could have a negative impact on the environment. Using the power of data, this encourages a sizeable number of greener decisions for safer air which will benefit potentially thousands of people.

Word of mouth is another important element of community engagement. There may be some residents that are unaware about the dangers of air pollution and how certain activities they’re carrying out might be affecting their neighbours. Portals can help to educate whole neighbourhoods about what causes air pollution and actions individuals can take to reduce their emissions, like avoiding wood burning on cold days.

But what exactly can be done to engage communities using public portals to make the changes needed for better air quality?

How to Engage Communities using Public Portals

Local authorities can engage whole towns, and cities for getting involved in reducing their own personal exposure or improving air quality by changing their everyday behaviours with public portals. For example, Westbury Town Council use one Zephyr® monitor and MappAir® modelling to deliver real time data for PM2.5 and NO2 levels through their public MyAir® portal which can be accessed by residents in Westbury. Members of the community have used air quality data to make informed decisions about methods of travel and identifying alternative routes to reduce their exposure to air pollution.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council encourage behavioural change among faith groups in Sandwell. Using Zephyr® monitoring data available through MyAir® public, the council have made air pollution information available in eight faith centres across the area by displaying live data on screens in entrances. Air quality data is supported with a toolkit with information about methods of community engagement, sustainable transport, and useful information for local businesses, guiding community members about how they can help to work towards cleaner air.

Alternatively, schools can empower parents and pupils with public portals. Parents can access air quality data to identify clean routes to school which avoid busy roads and stop start traffic, thereby reducing children’s air pollution exposure on their journeys. Children are at such high risk of suffering from exposure to air pollution, so making use of clean routes can help them live healthy, happy lives.

Schools can also use forecast data available through public portals to communicate with parents about high pollution episodes. When pollution episodes are predicted, schools can use the data to tell parents to take extra care when taking their children to school and to avoid roads with car build up. Schools can also introduce mitigation measures such as road closures or introduce school streets to improve air quality and communicate this with parents prior to its implementation. Engaging schools and parents will help to save future generations.

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