How can airports communicate with the public during a pandemic?

Posted in: Aviation

PFAS presentationHow can an airport communicate a potential public health concern to the community during a public health crisis?

This is a real challenge for airports as they deal with potential per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) contamination during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. With social distancing requirements and restrictions on gatherings, traditional face-to-face public involvement activities such as meetings and open houses are often not viable options.  And yet, the public is increasingly aware of PFAS as a health issue and believe that airports are a major source of contamination. So, how can an airport effectively communicate to the local community the facts about PFAS and the steps being taken to investigate and remediate potential contamination?

The Dane County Regional Airport – Truax Field (MSN) in Madison, Wisconsin decided to embrace the communication practices of the COVID-19 era to solve this problem. Mead & Hunt helped the airport develop an interactive PFAS information webpage with the content that would normally be delivered in public meetings or open houses. This interactive page includes conventional webpage items, such as a timeline of public outreach efforts, a frequently asked question (FAQ) section, and links to other federal, state, and local public health resources to learn more about PFAS.

While methods of public outreach like this interactive website are essential, the airport wanted to go further and capture the benefits of face-to-face communication.  To do this, Mead & Hunt worked with MSN and Dane County staff to design and develop a virtual presentation. This presentation allows the community to learn about:

  • A background on the history of PFAS
  • An understanding of its human health concerns
  • How MSN historically used PFAS found in firefighting foams
  • What MSN has done to limit use of PFAS-containing firefighting foams
  • An understanding of the regulations & health advisories for PFAS exposure
  • An update on the status of PFAS investigation at MSN
  • Steps being taken by MSN to remediate PFAS contamination
  • Instructions on how to submit questions and find out additional information from project team staff

The presentation affords the community an opportunity to learn about PFAS issues and what MSN is doing to investigate and address PFAS contamination directly from the project team. This more personal approach is important in the absence of traditional in-person methods.

For this effort, Mead & Hunt applied our experience developing strategic approaches for airports to communicate effectively with their local communities about a wide range of environmental concerns, including noise, deicing, and construction activities. Our support includes coordination and collaboration with public relations and legal firms who specialize in specific environmental concerns.  Please contact us to learn more how we can help develop and implement an effective public outreach strategy for your facility in these times of communication challenges.

Zachary Puchacz

About the Author

Zachary Puchacz is an Aviation Planner in Mead & Hunt’s Lansing office. He has assisted airports nationwide with their PFAS mitigation strategies, researching the use and potential impacts of AFFF containing PFAS at airports. Zachary is also a fan of another kind of “white stuff’ – ice – as he is an avid hockey enthusiast and skates in multiple adult hockey leagues.

Aviation Environmental Senior Technical Advisor Dean Mericas also helped write this blog and was part of the team that created the presentation it references.

Read more posts by Zachary Puchacz

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