ENGAGING THE PUBLIC THROUGH USE OF IT
National Environment Agency

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Transboundary pollution such as smoke haze from land and forest fires during the traditional dry season from June to October has been a perennial problem in the southern ASEAN region in the past decade. These fires are caused mainly by land clearing and ‘slash and burn’ agricultural practices in some regional countries. The resultant smoke haze from such activities can be carried over to the nearby countries. The level of the pollution is dependent on factors such as the proximity and extent of the fires, the strength and direction of the prevailing winds, and the incidence and amount of rain. Singapore has been affected by transboundary smoke haze resulted from the land clearing and forest fires from the surrounding countries. The occurrence of transboundary smoke haze does affect public health and also the daily activities of members of the public. Exposure to the particulate matters in the haze within a 24-hr period will have considerable health impact to the elderly, the infants, pregnant women, construction workers, etc. Studies have shown that persons with continuous exposure over several years to high ambient pollution from fine particles (i.e. particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5); particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres), may have a higher risk of (a) cardiovascular effects, such as heart attacks, (b) reduced lung development, as well as (c) the development of chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma, in children. With the impact of global climate changes, the frequency of the transboundary haze has increased from about 2 episodes from the 5 years ago to about 3 times a year for the last 3 years. Each episode of the haze lasts from 5 days to 2 weeks with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reaching the unhealthy levels within few hours. It is thus important for NEA to ensure accurate and timely information are made available to help the public plan their activities for the day.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The Meteorological Service of National Environment Agency (NEA) provides the members of the public and various organisations (such as aviation and education institutional) with environmental information such as air quality, weather information and dengue clusters through various online platforms. They include the NEA corporate website, micro-sites, social media and mobile applications. By harnessing the power of technology, NEA (Meteorological Service Division and Information Technology Department) is able to promote greater environmental ownership and help the public better plan their daily routines and protect their health. For example, in June 2013, Singapore was hit by an unprecedented high of PSI 401, NEA provided timely air quality information on various online platforms. The important information such as the daily health advisories were made available on multiple platforms. This included the NEA website (www.nea.gov.sg), haze microsite (www.haze.gov.sg), NEA twitter (@NEASg), NEA Facebook (www.facebook.com/NEASingapore) as well as myENV (short for my Environment) mobile application. During the haze crisis, the visitorship to the NEA corporate website peaked at 5 million and the adoption of the mobile app hits 500,00 downloads when PSI levels hit 401 on 21 June 2013. This initiative was spearheaded by NEA and supported by various Ministries such as Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of Environment and Water Resources. In April 2014, NEA implemented an enhanced air quality reporting system where the new PSI incorporated PM2.5 into the index as a sixth pollutant parameter. In addition, the 3-hour PSI now takes into account PM2.5 concentrations and NEA publishes the PM2.5 concentrations hourly. With the implementation of the new air quality reporting system, both the Haze microsite, NEA corporate website, as well as myENV mobile application had to be enhanced to support the new PSI system. In addition to the changes to both websites, myENV mobile application was enhanced to display trend charts on air quality information and incorporated the 1-hr PM2.5 pollutant concentrations as the a sixth pollutant in the overall PSI. The original PSI includes the following pollutant concentrations: PM10, SO2, O2 and NO2. The inclusion of the PM2.5 was immediately reflected as some of the latest changes to NEA websites and myENV (mobile app) with effect from 1 April 2014. Both the website and myENV displays prominently on both the 3-hr PSI and 24hr PSI levels hourly, to enable the public to have situation awareness on the impending haze condition. On the website (desktop view), a widget at the top right hand corner on the PSI Homepage prominently displays the both the PSI’s on the latest hour. Details of the pollutant concentrations are also available to the interested public according for 5 key regions (North, South, East, West and Central) over a 24-hr interval. On the myENV (mobile view), it displays 6 running hours of PM2.5 within myENV app for the public to access PSI readings on the go. Trend Charts for the 6 key pollutants within PSI For the public that is more visually inclined, PSI trend charts are available on both the web and mobile to interact and view the pollutant concentrations over the 5 key regions. The trend charts also enhances users’ experience with the following new functionalities. • View the readings for each pollutant sub-index from the trend charts. • Access the information on the PSI reading which are colour-coded to provide an indication on the air quality level. • Navigate between regions by clicking on “North”, “South”, “East”, “West” and “Central” to view the respective readings. • View the individual reading of an hour by hovering over a bar. Readings for the past 24 hours is displayed as well. • Access information such as the current, minimum and maximum readings. • Navigate between sub-indices, by clicking on the smaller scaled trend charts to view the respective readings. For more details, please go to: • http://www.haze.gov.sg/haze-update/psi.aspx; • http://app2.nea.gov.sg/anti-pollution-radiation-protection/air-pollution-control/psi; or • Download MyENV mobile application from Apple App Store or Google Play

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The corporate website is powered by a robust enterprise WCMS (Web Content Management System) which has a multi-site management capability that is able to extend the content publishing functionality to benefit the haze micro-site, thus enabling ease of accessibility by the members of the public. The website resiliency is supported by a Cloud-based CDN (Content Delivery Network). Both the combined performance of the enterprise WCMS and CDN enabled data transmission and content sharing on PSI readings to the access info within 3 seconds and enabled the NEA operational team to update the latest health advisory to the downstream applications/interfaces on the fly such as: • RSS feeds of environmental data • TV feeds on PSI through the Meteorological Services System (MSS) • Twitter feed (@NEAsg) • Interactive Voice Response System (Call Centre System) • MyENV mobile application (IOS and Android) • weather@SG mobile website (weather.nea.gov.sg) • NEA Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/NEASingapore) Public Education To ensure that the public can easily understand the new PSI system, infographics (http://www.haze.gov.sg/docs/default-source/haze-update/Infographic-1.pdf, http://www.haze.gov.sg/docs/default-source/haze-update/HandyGuide1-2_v6.pdf, http://www.haze.gov.sg/docs/default-source/haze-update/Infographic-2.pdf ) and resource materials designed and developed by our Communications Department and Partnership Departments were also incorporated on NEA websites. These infographics simplifies the education to the public on the new inclusion of the PM2.5 pollutant concentrations to the overall PSI, how to interpret the 3-hr PSI (visual indicator) and 24-hr PSI (health risk indicator), and how to react and manage activities during the haze situation.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
To enable the successful project implementation, an action plan was formulated with stakeholders’ inputs taken into consideration. The developed multi-pronged action plan was as follows: To procure / activate the enabling Technology: 1. Websites To equipped the website with Enterprise WCMS so as to provide prompt publication of PSI info and health adbisories: - User-friendly dashboard and widgets for content publishing, redesign and re-use of content across multiple websites and channels. - WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) allows non technical users who do not know HTML, CSS or other programming languages to create content in a desired format 2. Breadth of outreach to masses – Mobile platform To enable a mobile platform (myENV) to provide alerts via push notifications for the general public to warn about the impending or changing haze situation. The mobile user is able to select the range of PSI level which will be alerted. The mobile platform backend is designed in a cloud architecture and is able to generate about 90,000 push notifications per second and scale accordingly when needed 3. Content Delivery Infrastruture Due to the high volume of traffic to the websites and mobile, a Content Delivery Network (CDN) need to be deployed in multiple data centres across the Internet to handle the sudden spikes in traffic to the NEA websites: - Scalability - Pay-per-use model - Capacity-on-demand - Secure platform, with 99% uptime - Allows for up-to-minute updates 4. Other Digital Channels of outreach Identify other digital medias such as facebook, twitters and also collaborate with the TV channels to provide the 3-hr and 24-hr PSI readings on the TV screen. To meet Timeframe : Promptness of delivery of outcomes. As the launch of the new air quality reporting index was brought forward from 1 May 2014 to 1 April 2014, the timeline required for development and testing was compressed and shorten by one month. To Ensure Data Integrity: Level of innovativeness to deliver environmental information to the public promptly without compromising the data integrity and accuracy across different platforms/channels. To Ensure Information Accessibity: Ease of access to information. Delivery of frequent updates to multiple channels for easy access by the public anytime and anywhere To formulate Education materials: Infographics to educate public on how the PSI levels impact health risks, the pollutant concentrations and how to manage daily activity during any haze episode.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
This initiative was spearheaded by NEA key stakeholders, who included various Ministries such as Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), Ministry of Education (MOE), Ministry of Transport (MOT), Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Ministry of Environment and Water Resources (MEWR). As the smoke haze has health impact across the lives of people living and working in Singapore, the key stakeholders provided on the type of advisories that impacts different segments of the population, i.e. MOE on students, school operations and education institutions, MOT on public transport operations and operators (such as bus, taxis, trains, aviation) and MCI provided streamlined crisis communications to medias, etc.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The project was fully funded by NEA. The resources involved comprised the operational department, IT department, corporate communications department, meteorological department, 3-partnership department and NEA’s management team. These resources were mobilised under a Crisis Management Team structure with the SOPs in managing the haze crisis situation. The actual costs in this project were the costs of leveraging the various technologies. However these costs can justified for serving the public interests and some of the ROIs achieved were: 1. With an Enterprise WCMS, the multi-site management feature saved NEA on the deployment cost for content refresh and publishing. In addition, licensing cost is also shared across unlimited websites management. 2. With CDN, the setup of 400 servers across three major local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will cost NEA close to several million dollars per year, in terms of infrastructure and maintenance costs. The ROI is substantial as the subscription model is based on usage for extensive platform coverage. The other savings are a result of reduced manpower resources to replace or refresh systems. The Cloud’s pay-per-use model also meant that NEA could subscribe to a capacity on-demand option. 3. With the mobile push notifications, the operational costs of providing an SMS infrastructure is drastically reduced from the initial costs of 20cents per SMS (Short Messaging Service).

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Key outcomes: The critical information such as health advisories and PSI readings are made available to the public on the NEA website and haze micro-site: 1) NEA developed and implemented the haze micro-site within 72 hours which became operational on 23 June 2013. This was done through content sharing using an enterprise Web Content Management System (WCMS), with continual updates on PSI information throughout the haze period until October 2013, when the haze crisis situation was stood down with the return of air quality readings returning to healthy levels. Working with various departments (Pollution Control Department, Communications Department in NEA), this ensured that information was made readily available on our online portals. 2) Enhanced the NEA corporate website within 48 hours with Content Delivery Network (CDN) services on-demand turned on to meet the high hit rates of over 120,000 per minute, and average of more than 90,000 visitors per minute. This translated to a monthly bandwidth of 49.1TB. As a result of this implementation, the NEA corporate website was able to continuously provide information to the public without experiencing any slowness or downtimes. 3) PSI information provided by our Operations departments was made available on both Haze micro-site and NEA corporate website on an hourly basis, 24 hours a day, for seven days a week. Prior to the haze crisis, PSI information was only provided once and three times a day. 4) Set up video conferencing facilities to allow for the media briefings and press conferences to take place. We also support our Operations and Communications departments by extending the dissemination of information to other NEA’s online platforms: a. Social Media platforms like Twitter b. RSS feeds of environmental data c. TV feeds on PSI through the Meteorological Services System The project also enhanced the staff productivity. Last but not least, the public awareness on health impact due to smoke haze, and measures to be taken to alleviate possible health impacts.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The KPIs are measured by: • Promptness of delivery of outcomes. As the launch of the new air quality reporting index was brought forward from 1 May 2014 to 1 April 2014, the timeline required for development, testing and validation was compressed and shorten by one month. • Level of innovativeness to deliver environmental information to the public promptly without compromising the data integrity and accuracy across different platforms/channels. The number of platforms that NEA interfaces for the provision of PSI information has increased from 1 to 6 NEA-managed systems (Twitter, Interactive Voice Response System, myENV, Haze microsite, weather@SG, and Meteorological Services System) and six other external platforms. • Ease of access to information. Delivery of frequent updates to multiple channels for easy access by the public anytime and anywhere. • Increase in Visitorship. The monthly number of unique visitors to NEA Corporate website has increased from previously 30,000 to 200,000 averagely with further increase to 4.2 million users during hazy conditions. The monthly number of unique visitors to Haze microsite has increased from previously 10,000 to 30,000 averagely with further increase to 150,000 users during hazy conditions. Accumulative downloads of myENV has increased four-fold from 100,000 to 450,000 subscribers.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main problems that were encountered during the project execution: 1. Managing Expectations of the public The website, social media and mobile platforms have to be robust to withstand high traffic loads. The public will not accept any failures in providing timely PSI info and advisories during the haze period. 2. Funding As a government agency, the funding is limited and the project team had to be innovative in leveraging on existing project fundings, system architecture and resources. 3. Speed (Compressed) time of Implementations The inclusion of the PM2.5 pollutant concentrations to the overall PSI indicator needs to be reflected immediately in all digital channels so as not to have any gap in communications to the public. There is a need to speed up the time of implementation as the info will have no impact if the project is delivered after the haze window.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Under G2G, the project team liaised with other public agencies such as Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education to provide a one-stop information portal on haze updates, health advisory and guidelines to members of the public. For G2C, the website hit rates on 21 June 2013 (during haze period) peaked at more than 5 million views. This is a strong indicator of the usefulness of the websites in serving the needs of the public. During non-haze environment conditions for 5 months since 1 January 2014, NEA Corporate Website received more than 5 millions hits. During non-haze periods, the haze microsite received more than 370,000 hits for 5 months from 1 January 2014 to 1 May 2014 For the mobile application, it registered more than 500,000 downloads and increasing daily. This has an impact on the outreach of sending out crisis message to alert public Benefits to NEA Operation Users: 1. Enterprise WCMS: • User-friendly dashboard and widgets for content publishing, redesign and re-use of content across multiple websites and channels. • WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) allows non-technical users who do not know HTML, CSS or other programming languages to create content in a desired format 2. CDN - Deployed in multiple data centres across the Internet to handle the sudden spikes in traffic to the NEA websites: • Scalability • Pay-per-use model • Capacity-on-demand • Secure platform, with 99% uptime • Allows for up-to-minute updates 3. Push messages in Mobile • Provided prompt alerts to public on PSI range • Provided detailed PM2.5 concentrations level on hourly basis • Provide quick access to trends on the 6 key particulate matters within the PSI

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
In order to provide a sustainable public engagement strategy, NEA will continue to strive to provide relevant and timely information across multiple digital platforms as a means for outreach to communities (people, public, private sectors) with an end in mind for “One Environment” for everyone, i.e. to promote environmental ownership and sustainable positive behavioural change in the longer term. With the inclusion of the mobile platforms, the public can be the “eyes “ and “sensors” for NEA for areas which the current deployed engineering sensors coverage may be lacking. This will provide NEA on the gaps of sensors on the ground and thus able to deploy sensors strategically. The project has been shared with both local and regional public agencies such as Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
On top of the high pressure delivery timeframe in delivering this project, the satisfaction in fulfilling the needs and interests of the public is invaluable. Future plans: Auto updates of PSI datasets across internal systems Against the backdrop of a possible impending El Nino, NEA is working towards having an automatic update of PSI readings by the third quarter of 2014. This will involve the NEA websites interfacing with, MSS, NEA’s AirViro System and Integrated Environment System (IES) for a synchronised files exchange to provide automatic PSI readings. There will be minimal human intervention in ensuring the accuracy of PSI readings for data transmission. This will also relieve an on-site team from providing 24x7 support for NEA operations and critical systems which provide information to both haze microsite and the NEA Corporate website. Opening up more datasets to public There is also plan for the development of PSI-related API interfaces that developers can use to develop applications with government data under the Government’s data.gov.sg initiative (www.data.gov.sg). This approach will rally the public/private to design a potentially sophisticated haze alert system at a low cost and satisfies different public demographic segments.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   National Environment Agency
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Teck Choon Tan
Title:   Assistant Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   67319355
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   tan_teck_choon@nea.gov.sg  
Address:   40 Scotts Road, Environment Building
Postal Code:   228231
City:   Singapore
State/Province:  
Country:  

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