Saturday, June 22, 2013
PSI: Realtime indications of air quality needed during haze crisis
Singapore's defence and security services can detect incoming air attack, hostile warships and submarines as well as land-based threats.
The island nation has a comprehensive Public Warning System which is designed to alert residents of impending threats (mainly air and artillery strikes).
But when it comes to smoke from Indonesian forest and plantation fires that is now causing the haze that has blanketed Singapore, the multi-spectrum Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is a bench warmer.
When facing a clear and present danger to our health and well-being (i.e. the haze), we could do better giving Singaporeans better situational awareness.
Indeed, Singaporean residents unplugged from cyberspace have no indication of air quality.
Net savvy individuals who arm themselves with phone apps for hourly PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) updates from the National Environment Agency (NEA) have to contend with three-hourly PSI readings which, by the admission of officialdom, fluctuate widely.
There is a disappointing disconnect between what Singaporeans need to know and an apparent effort by officialdom to put on a stoic business-as-usual, keep calm and carry on mentality.
With the amount of money Singapore has spent in wiring up this island, it is hard to imagine why NEA cannot provide realtime PSI readings.
From a medical and academic perspective, the logic that 24-hour PSI readings are better suited for "calibrating" national responses is hard to argue against.
Those numbers may be fine for the head, but not the heart.
In building a case that Singaporeans fixated on minute-to-minute (i.e. realtime) readings would be akin to "chasing one's tail" (Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, Today newspaper, Page 2, 21 June 2013), government spin doctors are missing the forest for the trees.
When Singaporeans look out of their window and see landmarks disappearing at an alarming rate, we need advice and some immediate indication to help us plan our course of action.
What does a PSI of 401 Hazardous mean?
The NEA escalation ladder for its PSI readings indicate action items (stay indoors etc etc) but could do better explaining the health implications of the various health advisories. In other words, what is the impact on your health when the PSI is Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, Hazardous?
Should we allow mum to walk to the supermarket to buy groceries? Is it safe for junior to go to the playground? Can our loved ones still go for their evening walk?
These are everyday issues heartlanders have to deal with minute-to-minute.
They are judgment calls we have to make, go/no-go decisions that are better served by being appraised of the situation with figures we can trust showing the situation right now, not backdated averages of what had been in hours past.
The information world abhors a vacuum.
In the absence of clear guidance from NEA, what do we resort to as our guiding light?
We probably use guesstimates of the air quality based on what we can see ("Oh, that building was visible when PSI was xxx points, so I guess it must be around xxx points now"), anecdotal advice from self-professed weather experten, noise from the Internet.
If there is some technical hurdle to sharing realtime PSI computations, then please say it, explain it to Singaporeans to help us help you manage public morale.
At the present time, such morale isn't great.
Use of SAF assets in combatting the haze
Posted by David Boey at 10:47 AM