EPA: Web site is a powerful way to inform public

EPA: Web site is a powerful way to inform public

By William Jackson

GCN Staff

The Environmental Protection Agency's Envirofacts data warehouse has become one of the busiest government Web sites, drawing 1.4 million hits and 600,000 requests for custom maps per month.

The site, at www.epa.gov/enviro, provides a single point of access for official data about air and water pollution and toxic discharges. For the first time, EPA has put the entire record on a single platform so that figures from different offices can be compared.

But at the recent eGov trade show in Washington, Envirofacts director Pat Garvey advised against making cross-comparisons. Although EPA's IRM Office has integrated many stovepipe databases into a single data warehouse, the offices that collect the information still operate under stovepipe regulations and do not produce comparable data.

Who, what, where

EPA set up Envirofacts to consolidate 100G of information from various mainframe and other legacy databases. The warehouse, based on an Oracle Corp. relational database management system with geographic information system capabilities, lets users overlay data on maps to see who is doing what and where.

The IRM Office had to set up the system because EPA's constituent offices have no mission requirement to combine the information they gather.

Despite his caveat on comparing data across offices, Garvey said, Envirofacts is a powerful tool for disseminating information to the public.

Garvey listed the lessons EPA has learned from Envirofacts:

' Engage users. Garvey held meetings with 30 focus groups to find out what data to include and continues to monitor user responses to keep up with their needs and wants.

' Keep up older dissemination methods. The data warehouse is only a part of EPA's effort to make information available.

' Do not believe everything vendors say. Going mainstream does not mean putting up with the status quo, Garvey said.

' Use mainstream systems. Garvey said EPA used Oracle software for the data warehouse because it was available on contracts.

' Document, document, document. Users design their own applications, freeing the IRM Office to concentrate on its mission.

' Start small, and find out what works.

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