Man  looking at laptop

Alerting Elders to Air Quality Health Risks

To improve the health and wellness of under-resourced elders, Three3, Inc. is implementing strategies to improve resiliency to indoor and outdoor environmental health risks.

Download the project snapshot

 

Background

As humans age, we become more susceptible to negative health outcomes from poor air quality. Both indoor and outdoor air quality can present health challenges for the elderly and impact their day-to-day activities. This pilot project aims to create a new alerting system for historically under-resourced communities of color in the Knoxville area, gaining valuable insights into the benefits of alerting elders to negative air quality concerns along the way. The pilot project will also install smart thermostats with alerts that will enable elderly residents to know if and when their power has been interrupted.

Alerting Elders to Air Quality Health Risks

 

Overview

Pilot Illustration

The pilot project will improve the resilience of elders to indoor and outdoor air quality risks through the development of the Elders Alerts System about Imminent Environmental Risks (the EASIER alert system). To start, indoor environmental quality (IEQ) monitoring sensors will be installed in homes to measure temperature, humidity, particulate matter, and other indoor conditions. Air quality monitors will also be placed outside in participating neighborhoods. These data will be combined with weather conditions and weather forecast data to trigger alerts to elders and designated members of their networks in the case of extreme events. This communication protocol is important as it alerts family and friends of participating elders to potential dangers.

The EASIER alert system will communicate with elders through a well-designed user interface on a tablet that is provided as part of the pilot project. The interface will be designed so that elders feel confident and comfortable understanding both the displays and the alerts. By understanding alerts, elder community members can make important decisions about activities in order to stay healthy. It is anticipated that the core technologies of the EASIER alert system and lessons learned from this project will be directly usable by other communities to help other elderly community members live more independently across the Tennessee Valley.

Objectives

The goal of this pilot project is to enroll 50 households across the Knoxville area in locations that are deemed to be environmental justice locations per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) environmental justice tool. Additional metrics include:

  1. Number of qualifying homes enrolled with the EASIER alert system
  2. Number of appropriate alerts that the EASIER alert system provides to users and networks
  3. Number of individuals and organizations connected to the EASIER alert system and their direct users
Man adjusting thermostat


Key Levers for Success

With such an expansive pilot project, partnerships with different community partners are important for project success. The various community organizations and individuals involved in this pilot project bring together a wide range of knowledge and expertise to design each component of this new technology offering for elders living in Knoxville. Additionally, community input is also important for the development of the EASIER alert system. By gathering feedback from the community and understanding its unique needs, the technology will have a better chance of long-term success as it has been tailored to fit what the community needs, not the needs of others.

The Team

This project will be co-led by Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development (SEEED), a 501(c) (3) organization located in the heart of East Knoxville, and Three3, Inc., a Knoxville-based 501(c)(3) non-profit research organization. The other members of the team are the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK); Slipstream, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin; and healthcare consulting expert, Nexus Insight Advisors.

Social Equal Energy Efficiency Development (SEEED)

  • Stan Johnson, executive director, will be a co-principal investigator for this project.

Three3, Inc.

  • Dr. Bruce Tonn, president, will be a co-principal investigator for this project.

University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Researchers from five UTK colleges will participate in this project:

  • Prof. Xaiopeng Zhao, College of Engineering, will lead the effort to develop the software to aggregate sensor data, and process data to identify alert conditions, and will program the user interface.
  • Prof. Suzie Allard, College of Communication & Information, will lead the effort to assess the EASIER alert system user interface.
  • Prof. Kristina Kintziger, College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, will contribute to developing the EASIER alert system and evaluating the system and its health impacts.
  • Prof. Kelly Ellis, College of Arts & Sciences, will contribute to enriching the EASIER alert system by helping to input the most relevant weather data into the system and transforming these data into understandable inputs for the alerts system and users.
  • Prof. Jennifer First, College of Social Work, will contribute to developing the EASIER alert system, assessment of project activities using an energy and environmental justice framework, and community outreach.

Slipstream, Inc.

  • Scott Pigg will lead this effort for Slipstream.

Nexus Insight Advisors

  • David Cox will lead the effort to communicate the benefits of this project to the healthcare community.

 

Next Steps / Timeline

TVA Connected Communities Calendar Icon

The Local Advisory Group will kick off and begin developing the evaluation framework that will be used for the prototype development of the EASIER alert system. This prototype will be deployed within the first six months to 10 homes to begin real-world testing. Additionally, training will begin for volunteers who will help participants learn about the EASIER alert system and how it can help them improve their health.

Photo Gallery

The User Experience Lab (UXL) team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville hosted Three3 and SEEED (Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development) on November 10th as an opportunity for the pilot project team to get to know one another better. UXL offers a range of user experience research services and will provide the expertise and tools to examine how people interact with technology and guidance on what can be done to improve those interactions for this pilot project.