EPA site uses class to unite cleanup crew

EPA site uses class to unite cleanup crew


Workers who clean up hazardous waste sites are keeping abreast of the latest technology available for the job through an online classroom set up by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cleanup workers can find archived class material and schedules of future programs at clu-in.org, said Jeffrey S. Heimerman, director of the agency's Technology Users Support Program.

'We wanted to create an event to draw people back to the Web site.'
'EPA's Jeffrey S. Heimerman
Not long ago workers dealing with hazardous material kept up on the newest methods and equipment by wading through bundles of documents produced by the agency. The EPA's Technology Innovation Office advertised the information using fliers, direct mail or by manning booths at technical conferences, Heimerman said.

Cleanup personnel then ordered the information, which the office shipped from its warehouse, he said.

But this system had its shortcomings. Some workers'including many EPA staff members'missed important training courses or helpful data buried in pages of literature.

An electronic bulletin board kept some informed before the advent of the Internet, he said. EPA killed the board several years ago, after Heimerman's office began using Web pages as a document repository, he said.

Users, check it out

When the page first went live, Heimerman's office used it to post documents and program announcements for users.

'We always wondered how we could create a community around the information we'd gathered,' Heimerman said. 'We wanted to create an event to draw people back to the Web site, where they would bump into all this other good stuff.'

Hazmat tutorials proved to be exactly the hook EPA needed to make the community thrive, said Heimerman, who likened the classes to glorified conference calls.

When the office assembles 15 to 25 documents a given case study or policy, Heimerman schedules a class and makes the information available for download.

Users access the classes via computer, or by phone if slow modems or stringent firewalls make online connection tedious, he said.

The effort has been so successful that Heimerman received the May Leadership Award from the Association for Federal IRM for leading the initiative to provide the interactive service [GCN, May 28, Page 41].

Heimerman maintains that he is not a technologically savvy guy. 'I'm just trying to take advantage of the tools that are out there to get the job done,' he said.

The simplicity of the site is one of its assets, he said. In the field, professionals joining the class watch a simulcast'which lasts between 20 and 30 minutes'and hear the lecture via streaming audio, he said.

Any questions?

After the lecture, those watching can type questions that experts answer.

The courses are archived on a Microsoft Access database, so the information is always available. But the live classes have proved more popular, so a single tutorial may be repeated more than a dozen times, Heimerman said.

Staff members design the Web page using the ColdFusion application from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco.

Heimerman said he expects the site to meet the requirements of Section 508.


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