EPA will open AIRS on Web

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 10-year-old air pollution data retrieval
system will soon have browser access, even though the Web is still in some respects
“a pretty scary place,” EPA’s Tom Link said.


“We don’t know if we’ll have 200 or 10,000 simultaneous users, but
we’ll find out this fall when we go into production,” said Link, senior EPA
manager for advanced data delivery systems in the Office of Air and Radiation.


Link also has concerns about who will foot the bill for the universal Web access.
EPA’s Office of Air Quality Standards Research in Research Triangle Park, N.C.,
charges $1,200 per hour for mainframe access to the Aerometric Information Retrieval
System (AIRS) Graphics.


Congress, states, foreign governments, municipalities, researchers and corporations all
consult the billions of pieces of air pollution information in AIRS Graphics, housed in an
Adabas database management system from Software AG of North America Inc. of Reston, Va.


From a technology standpoint, the Web transition this fall will be relatively easy. The
AIRS Graphics application will move in segments from EPA’s IBM 9021-9X2 mainframe
running OS/390. “We have a nice application, and we want users to be able to go on
the Web and be familiar with it,” said Pranav Patel, business applications consultant
for EPA contractor Lockheed Martin Technology Services.


EPA developed the original AIRS Graphics using data extraction, mapping and warehouse
tools from SAS Institute Inc. of Cary, N.C. “We’ve had different SAS products
for the past 10 years to try to make our data easy for people to use,” Link said.


The Web-access version has a user interface, data extraction and mapping tools, input
validation and flow control developed with SAS System 6.12 for Unix. The Web server, a
Compaq Computer Corp. six-way 615-MHz AlphaServer 8400, runs Digital Unix 4.0D and
Netscape Communications Corp. Enterprise Server.


To build browser access to AIRS Graphics, EPA developers used a combination of SAS
System 6.09E on the mainframe, and SAS/IntrNet, SAS Screen Control Language (SCL),
SAS/Data Step and SAS/Graph capabilities, along with Hypertext Markup Language,
JavaScript, .gif files and cookies.


Because SAS/IntrNet uses the Common Gateway Interface, EPA developers coded in SCL
rather than Perl or some other language.


The original application had no interactive facilities.


In 1994, EPA used SAS/AF Frame entries to update AIRS Graphics with radio buttons,
check boxes and graphics that respond to mouse clicks.


When the Web version makes its debut, the black screens familiar to AIRS Graphics users
will disappear.


“We’ve added white space to give them a nice feel,” Patel said.


EPA officials already are planning the next version, which will exploit Dynamic HTML,
Java, SAS/GIS and direct database access.


The reason is that EPA looked around and saw alternative sources of pollution
information such as CNN’s Interactive Environment Web site. “We know if we
don’t stay on the cutting edge, there are other sources of information out
there,” Link said.


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