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Developing smoke and heat guidance for UW locations

It’s wet and gray the way later October is supposed to be, but just a few days ago most of Western Washington was struggling with what at certain moments topped the “World’s Worst Air Quality” lists. Unfortunately, wildfire smoke has become a standard late summer, early fall phenomenon for all three campuses. In addition, we’ve seen higher summer peak temperatures. It’s time to treat inclement summer weather as an ongoing challenge requiring standards connected to guidance and, when necessary, requirements for UW communities.

Currently, UW Emergency Management and UW Environmental Health & Safety communicate when the air quality index (AQI) levels rise and EH&S posts an alert detailing the steps units should take to protect student, staff and faculty health. However, with the frequency of air quality issues over the past several summers and the breadth of UW’s reach around Puget Sound and Western Washington, refinement and amplification of this approach is needed for the future.

Previously, the UW Weather Status Assessment Group convened only for winter weather challenges like snow and ice. It’s made up of operations-focused groups like Facilities, Human Resources, Student Life, Academic Affairs, UW Medicine and News & Information. It makes recommendations specifically about operations on the Seattle campus and supports operational decisions at UW-Bothell and UW-Tacoma.

A sub-group of this team is now meeting to focus on adapting the WSAG to advise on inclement summer weather. The goal is to review the work on AQI standards and requirements under way at the state level in Washington and connect it to the needs of UW campuses and facilities. In the end, the idea is to come up with a relatively easy to understand chart of AQI levels with corresponding University guidance or requirements. The guidance and requirements will likely mean more preparation for summer weather; a greater understanding of specific building systems that protect occupants from smoke, particulates and extreme heat; and potential operational changes in high AQI or heat circumstances.

With this review work underway now, the hope is to have draft standards and guidance in winter quarter, followed by refinement for application next summer. If you would like to learn more, please contact Barry Morgan, UWEM Plans, Training & Exercise Manager at