The Smoke Sense mobile app is designed to pilot a citizen science study about the impacts of wildfire smoke exposure on health. Citizen scientists can use the app to learn about wildland fires and smoke health risks in their area. They can report their health symptoms, and the range of actions they are able or willing to take to improve their health condition or lower their exposure.
Runs offline: no
Last update: Android 19/09/2018 (v. 1.2.4) – iOS 25/09/2018 (v. 2.0)
Website of the developer: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The Smoke Sense project, promoted by the EPA, has two main objectives:
- Raise awareness about the known health effects associated with exposure to smoke.
- Advance the scientific understanding of this relationship in order to
- Understand subclinical health impacts
- Discover how people protect their health during exposure to smoke
- Develop effective strategies for communicating health risks from exposure to smoke
The app, besides evaluating the consequences of forest fires on health, also seeks to analyze the effectiveness of a mobile application as a communication tool.
Information provided by the app
The first time you start the application, you’ll see a survey to fill out. It includes aspects related to age, gender, health, physical condition, etc., although all the data are anonymous. The next step is to enter a postal code. The purpose of this data is to give you information about air quality and to consult the smoke conditions near your location. In the present case, the postcode of a small town called Greenview (California) has been selected.
The main screen shows 4 main options:
- Symptom & smoke observations, which allows you to report the presence of smoke and whether it is causing any health problems. The alert is set in relation to the postal code entered above.
- Fire & smoke near me, which presents on a map the different alerts registered and the expected evolution. It shows information about:
- Particulate matter (colored dots)
- Fires detected by satellites (Hazard Mapping System – HMS – from NOAA)
- Smoke plumes detected by the HMS system
- Observations of fires obtained from the InciWeb (Incident Information System) system, which distinguishes between prescribed fires and natural or provoked fires.
- Smoke smarts, a section that evaluates your behavior through questions. For example, if you wear gloves and a mask when cleaning a dirty area with ash.
- Air quality 101, which allows you to access a website about research into air pollution by smoke.
Also, at the bottom, you have an additional menu from which you can
- Learn more about the project ( About option).
- Modify your profile (My profile).
- View your badges, which are given as you explore the app and provide information.
- View weekly statistics of active users and reported symptoms.
The screenshots correspond to the iOS version of the application running on an iPad.
Images: screenshots 10/10/2018. © EPA
The video is recorded using the iOS version of the application running on an iPad (9 min 14 sec).
A Conversation on the Smoke Sense Research Project for Wildland Fires (EPA, 26/09/2018)
Forest fires, in addition to burn forests, an aspect that causes the loss of biodiversity, also cause health problems that are not always adequately addressed. One of the main examples is particles in suspension. This particulate matter, present in the smoke or in the form of dust and soot in the ash, can easily penetrate into the respiratory system due to its size. Contact or inhalation may cause, for example, irritation of the eyes, nose or skin, or more severe effects such as asthma attacks or breathing difficulty. In fact, and bridging the differences, the combustion of wood in inadequate installations in the United Kingdom alone causes the premature death of approximately 40 000 people a year.
Taking into account these factors and the extent of some fires (1.6 million to 2 million hectares of forest are calcined each year in the United States), there is a need to establish agile and reliable communication systems. In the present case, Smoke Sense relies on citizen science, gathering information from volunteers about the presence of fire or smoke. Although the design is not particularly eye-catching, the app stands out for its simplicity of use, with the section showing fires and smoke on the map being especially useful. As for the improvements, sections such as Smoke Smarts could be more useful with another design in which the recommendations and tips to follow were clearer. However, the comparisons shown are quite curious, allowing us to see what is the usual behavior of people.