Massachusettes Integrates Environmental Data

A new inter-agency database is helping Massachusetts accurately assess environmental quality for effective protection.

by / October 31, 1995
Nov 95 Level of Govt: State. Function: Environmental Protection. Problem/situation: Effective response to environmental management was inhibited by multiple databases in the Massachusetts's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. Solution: EOEA developed an integrated environmental management system connecting each division. Jurisdiction: Massachusetts. Vendors: EDS, Oracle. Contact: John Rodman, assistant secretary of Environmental Affairs, 617/727-9800 x217.

Bill Loller G2 Research Massachusetts's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) faced a series of problems in 1988. The problems could be boiled down to the lack of coordination by a myriad of subordinate agencies involved in monitoring environmental processes were obstructing the agency's ability to assess environmental quality holistically and accurately. Within the EOEA, the Department of Environmental Protection maintained separate databases to support divisions managing the air, land or water quality programs. The separation of these activities led to multiple inspectors at a single facility to approve of air, land and water permits as well as storage of key environmental information in separate databases. These factors created inefficiency within the department and confusion in the private sector. Inspectors often entered the same data into each of the three databases, and companies were forced to work with numerous engineers and inspectors in order to receive the permits necessary to legally operate. In 1988, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection developed a new environmental agenda and reorganized the programs under three new bureaus. The goal was to develop comprehensive, not segmented, environmental protection; cross-media inspections and compliance strategies; and inter-agency data sharing.

Getting Connected In order to successfully fulfill these objectives, EOEA required a new environmental management system which would integrate environmental data and connect each division. The development and implementation of an Environmental Protection Integrated Computer System (EPICS) ensured that the new operational framework for the department would succeed. The implementation of an integrated system became a priority in 1989. In response to the Waste Prevention Facility-wide Inspections to Reduce the Source of Toxins (FIRST) initiative, the department solicited proposals from the vendor community for an integrated environmental database. EDS was selected based on the technical merits of the proposed system as well as the commitment of EDS to EPICS implementation and future planning. The department had previously worked with EDS for hardware and software in addition to consulting services. EPICS revolves around the facility master file (FMF), the comprehensive data model which can be accessed by all programs within the Department of Environmental Protection. CASE methodology was utilized in developing and designing this integrated data model. Essentially, FMF integrated ten individual databases from the following areas: hazardous waste transporters, hazardous waste, transfer storage disposal, hazardous waste handler, air quality, solid waste, industrial waste water, water pollution control, water supply, water management, and cross connections. The integration of these databases eliminated data redundancy and provided all programs with a complete environmental picture of a facility and the status of its regulatory compliance. A single Oracle database stores all of the FMF information. subsystems within EPICS. The regional offices located across the state and within the Boston area access EPICS via a network of LANs and WANs. In fact, approximately 2,000 employees of EOEA at over a dozen locations throughout the state are connected by the network to the EPICS database. >From an operational standpoint, cross-trained inspectors are now able to perform all necessary functions at one facility during a single trip. A consolidated report is generated from the FMF which details the facility's entire compliance history and permit fees. This streamlines the permitting and inspection process and also provides the facility with a single point of contact if problems should arise. Data on individual programs are also stored on EPICS through the program subsystems.

Inter-Agency Data Sharing The department has found increased functionality with EPICS with respect to inter-agency data sharing and improved response to potentially serious situations. In some cases, the Department of Health will contact the department about the increase in illnesses from a particular area. The Department of Environmental Protection can quickly assess the environmental status of a certain area through the FMF, which contains information on air, land and water pollution sources. Similarly, if the department suspects a problem, data contained in the FMF provides the department with a quick way to analyze a facility's environmental compliance and target potential violators for inspections. Moreover, EPICS identifies, tracks, and monitors the use of toxic chemicals within the state. This feature allows the department to pinpoint problem areas and also make recommendations to companies about alternative non-toxic chemical substitutions. The department expanded the Toxic Use Reduction subsystem to track the total volume of toxic chemicals within the state, as well as the manner in which the chemicals are transported. The Department of Environmental Protection is extremely satisfied with the EPICS system. Once the department had a system that complemented the organizational framework, the department experienced a large improvement in productivity through more efficient and streamlined business processes as well as better customer service. Data Manager Douglas Priest pointed out that "just having the information available at a moment's notice is a major savings." EPICS also presents the opportunity to expand into other areas. The department believes that public access may become an important issue in the near future. Moreover, the department highly values EPICS based on two key issues: revenue generation and environmental reaction and protection. According to Victoria Phillips, fees coordinator for EPICS, the automated billing module for permit fees raised $7 million in 1994. The fees are used to hire inspectors and make additions to the system. Skip Russell, a senior systems analyst with the department noted that "without the possibility of fee generation, the EPICS system would have died. Fee generation allows continued development of the system." Secondly, through the facility master file, EPICS has dramatically improved the department's response to environmental inquiries or problems and enforcement of violators. Thus, these two factors have made EPICS an effective method of improving the state's protection of the environment.

Overcoming Resistance The department experienced resistance to EPICS at the beginning of the project. However, after the inspectors realized the tremendous benefits and power of the system, EPICS became very favorably viewed by the entire department. As the department adds more modules to the system, an increase in technical personnel will be required to maintain the system. In the near future, the department plans to implement new components to EPICS to enhance the power of such a comprehensive database with other available technologies. In particular, the department is planning to integrate EPICS with a Geographic Information System on which the environmental data can be layered in a mapped format. The department is also interested in implementing Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) to more reliably transmit and receive data from other environmental databases, namely the U.S. EPA, as well as data from the companies that are being regulated. On a smaller scale the department has already increased the system's reporting features through a reporting tool that allows end-users to query and analyze data without having to go through the MIS group. The department is also evaluating the implementation of a GUI front end. These additions, particularly GIS and EDI, will have an enormous impact on the department. Both GIS and EDI will increase the functionality of the system and reduce administrative costs within the department and EOEA. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs was named winner of the 1994 Computerworld Smithsonian award for the EPICS project. The award recognizes the technology industry's most creative and innovative uses of information technology that benefit a wide spectrum of society.