Purple Air Warnings Not Enough
If late fall fires start up again after the October deluge, Alameda County will already have smoke alert protocols in place. The county developed specific thresholds and delivery systems for alerts over the past two years. “Our geography creates a particular need for us to address smoke,” says county sustainability project manager Sarah Church. Church earned the title “smoke quarterback” from her work convening a variety of partners in county health, emergency, and environmental services to discuss how to address the smoke, which blanketed much of the East Bay for long unhealthy periods of “red air” in recent summers. With prevailing winds off the Pacific blowing up against the East Bay hills, smoke often gets trapped in low inland areas of the county.
In crafting their new alerts, the county also worked to remove jargon and use plain language. The “Purple Air” real-time air quality app is not a click away on a smart phone for all, for example. “We found when we tested messages using EPA terms like ‘orange air’ and ‘red air’ for levels of air pollution, people didn’t know what we were talking about,” says Church.
Results of focus groups also suggested that some members of public were less likely to pay attention to county smoke alerts on their phones or Facebook than to information from a trusted local institution. As a result, the county created a new subscription within their alert system available to community institutions such as churches, youth organizations, senior centers, and worker centers.
The county also defined air quality thresholds and duration periods for alerts, and protocols for county health and other officials to implement. Experience with these air quality communications also informed the county’s COVID-19 response.
Such protocols are part of a body of fast-developing models for better regional communication about when to close schools or how to manage clean air shelters, among other wildfire season challenges discussed at a recent meeting of the Bay Area Climate Action Network, where Church shared what she learned with other cities and counties.
“Climate change threats are now, and we all have to come up to speed very quickly, ” she said. “No one can do it alone.”
Other Recent Posts
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaks from abandoned wells across the country. Curtis Shuck has been finding them by hand, well by well. But finding the leaks is where satellites and citizens come in.
Imprisoned with Climate Change
Climate change has a disproportionate impact on incarcerated Americans. Juan Moreno Haines, one of 2.3 million prisoners in the US, describes his experience.
Artists Circle Confronts Climate Displacement and Just Recovery
The climate crisis in driving the displacement of people around the world. In the midst of the pandemic, an artists circle began developing new approaches to the issue.
Oona Khan dreams about her home of the future, after losing her Malibu retreat to fire. Caught in a quagmire of legal battles with Southern California Edison, and surging construction costs, Khan is still waiting to start construction.
The Case for Climate Castles
As climate change throws more extreme events at us, isn’t it time to think bigger, bolder, further ahead? Six young architects draw climate-resilient castles.
Looking for Justice at the Nexus of Housing and Climate Policy
How housing is built and who it is built for are not only equity questions, but also climate mitigation questions. When people can afford to live near their jobs, their emissions from commuting go down.
Bittersweet Beach Outing to See King Tide
On a clear morning in January, a group of tide worshippers gathered at the Santa Monica Pier to “celebrate the ocean and build our climate community,” said Laurene von Klan.
Safer at School from Wildfire Smoke?
Research confirms the drastic impacts wildfire smoke has had on school learning. But 16 East Bay schools now have updated air filters and more actions are in the pipeline statewide.
My Neighborhood Wised Up to Fire
When we fled the house in the Santa Cruz mountains that we had been living in for just nine months, we knew exactly two of our neighbors.
In Part 1 FIRE, KneeDeep explores where to expect debris flows from burn scars, how one neighborhood became fire wise, and what schools are doing to become safe havens.