Data First Responder: Assessing Air Quality Risks in the Aftermath of the Kīlauea Volcano Eruption

Hawaii Department of Education Thermal Comfort Portal data on key air quality indicators.

When the Kīlauea Volcano erupted on the Big Island in April, it set off a wave of public concern about the particulate matter and hazardous gases released into the air. Word of high levels of sulfur dioxide, a gas known to cause serious respiratory problems, incited island residents to don respiratory masks and question whether it was safe to send children to schools located near or downwind of the eruption site.

MKThink and RoundhouseOne were in a unique position to respond to this urgent need for reliable air quality information. The two firms, in partnership with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, operate the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) Thermal Comfort Portal, a trusted and widely publicized source for information on temperature and environmental conditions at the state’s 255 public school sites.

The Thermal Comfort Portal was rapidly configured to pull in near real-time air quality data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow site (vetted to be the most reliable and localized source of key air quality indicators—sulfur dioxide, ozone and particulate matter). Incorporating air quality data with the wind and thermal comfort data already monitored at each school site provides teachers, parents, and students and all island residents with the full data picture needed to assess air quality risks and make informed decisions.

MKThink and RoundhouseOne’s proven expertise in collecting, gathering, and integrating environmental data enabled them to quickly identify and integrate this suddenly relevant data stream into a tool that the public already knows and trusts.