Real Time Environmental Monitoring and Notification for Public Safety
Threats to public safety and health from environmental hazards such as polluted air and excessive heat, cold, and flooding emerge regularly, as shown by the 2005 Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee in the US, and other national and international environmental events. The magnitude of the Tennessee coal ash spill, for example, was initially underestimated by experts, as there wasn’t reliable data on air or water quality being gathered in the surrounding areas after the disaster occurred. This absence of data made it impossible for authorities to understand the magnitude of the potential public health hazard resulting from the elevated levels of lead and thallium in the Emory River, which was adjacent to the ash pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant, the site of the coal ash spill. Ecological system monitoring, such as the type that might be used for animal habitats or volcanic activity monitoring, has been used to monitor systems in the cases of such disasters. However, this type of monitoring doesn’t track fumes from auto exhaust, fires, or other atmospheric pollutants nor is it commonly used in situations where there is no immediate crisis. While carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide detectors are frequently used these days, the air is assessed in real-time and at the location being monitored, not through remote review of the periodically gathered data, which means there is no storage of the data for future review, trend assessment, and comparison with new data.
In these cases, troublesome environmental emissions are realized after the disaster or injury has occurred, as a result of the effects on the population near the impacted site, rather than before harm has occurred. Being able to determine, from locations outside the hazardous area, where an environmental hazard is occurring, the magnitude of the potential problem, and whether the threat is increasing or decreasing, is of great importance. However, gathering, analyzing, and presenting relevant environmental data in a timely fashion to pedestrians, motorists, and public safety authorities who might be headed toward or already in the identified area of potential hazard is not usually possible, as each step of the process—data gathering, analysis, and presentation—has specific challenges. Our system, an innovative combination of environmental monitoring and Web-based real-time data reporting, is designed to address these challenges. By using a wireless sensor network, regional environmental data can be gathered and analyzed in the timeframe needed. Data that exceeds previously established thresholds for safety causes a message to be sent via e-mail or mobile phone text message to individuals and public safety organizations, alerting them to the hazardous conditions that exist or are emerging. This low-cost data-gathering application can be implemented with ease in urban areas. In this article, we discuss the design of a wireless sensor network database that archives the data reported by distributed sensors
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