GIS for integrating environmental site remediation and compliance information

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  • GIS for Integrating Environmental Site Remediation and Compliance Inf orrnation

    Izak Maitin

    GlS and advanced visualization system technology for displaying underground conditions is being applied extensively to site investigations by federal agencies. Environmental compliance systems relating to emissions management, permit- ting, chemical invent0 y management, and traditional adherence to regulations have not received a comparable degree of application of GlS technology; they are being addressed by more traditional database management approaches. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate an integrated approach whereby a common database structure and GlS are used to manage both remediation and regulato y compliance data at largegovernment facilities, and to provide access to information at a management level. The system integrates facility drawings, process flow diagrams, building drawings, photographs, MSDS documents, budgets, regulatory drivers, and remediation costs and schedule data within a common framework. The system also interfaces with high-end and low-end visualization software tools.

    The environmental movement in the United States, beginning in the 1960s, has evolved to a new level of activity in the 1990s. Initial policies of cost minimization and policies aimed at minimal efforts to achieve compliance have been supplanted by environmentally proactive poli- cies in many progressive industrial organizations. Environmental issues and green policies are also being used to foster market image and competitive advantage. These attitudes are now beginning to transcend into the federal government sector.

    Facility Management (FM) and Geographic Information System (GIS) technologies can play a major role in effecting integrated and usable information systems to support environmental needs. Learning from the historical experience of U.S. industry in conjunction with the new information technologies, federal agencies can be more efficient in addressing the demands and challenges that they face regarding envi- ronmental issues.

    Izak Maitin is a Senior Project Scientist with E R M Program Management Company, Exton, Pennsylvania.

    Federal Facilities Environmental Journal/Spring 2 996 37 CCC 1048-4078/96/070137-22 Q 1996 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

  • lzak Maitin

    K A number of factors affect the information burden on federal agencies.

    This article describes the issues that must be addressed by federal agencies as they deal with the information management demands in the light of recent environmental policy changes. It addresses GIS as a strong integrating technology that complements the movement toward graphi- cal user interface (GUI) technology. Two environmental missions, com- pliance and remediation, are discussed, along with the need for integrat- ing the organizational information associated with these missions. Fi- nally, a prototype system that has been developed to illustrate the integration concept is described, and future directions for evolving the prototype based on emerging information technologies are described.


    A number of factors affect the information burden on federal agen- cies. Government facilities, particularly those in DOD and DOE, are faced with monumental environmental issues. Many federal facilities are operated or managed by large industrial corporations (O&M con- tractors). These organizations have experienced the evolution in envi- ronmental attitudes stemming from the laws, regulations, social climate, and the economics of competition. Superfund sites on federal- facilities are in various stages of investigation and remediation. The base closure programs driven by the end of the Cold War will increase demands associated with RCRA compliance. The Executive Order (E.O. 12856) signed by President Clinton on August 3, 1993, directly challenges federal agencies to become leaders in pollution prevention and regula- tory policy implementation. The information management issues asso- ciated with community right to know are also being imposed on logistics arms of federal agencies.

    There has been a dramatic growth in regulatory requirements im- posed on corporate America during the past 25 years. Exhibit 1 illus- trates the increase in regulations relating to environmental, safety, and health issues imposed on U.S. industry. Prior to the formation of EPA, there were two relevant federal laws; by 1990, there were 23. Corre- sponding state laws and regulations have generally tracked the federal laws in varying degrees to impose further compliance requirements.

    Associated with these laws are the federal regulations defining how the legal requirements are to be addressed. Exhibit 2 illustrates the trend as measured by the number of pages of regulations to be addressed by the legal and environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) organizations within corporate America. Understanding, accessing, and acting on these documents represents one important aspect of the information management burden.


    During the 1980s, personal computers entered the market, beginning a long-term transition from mainframe, time-shared computing to PC applications. Word processing, spreadsheet, and database management

    38 ~ ~ _ _ _

    Federal Facilities Environmental Journal/Spring 1996

  • GlS for lntegra ting Environmental Site Remediation and Compliance Information

    Federal Facilities Environmental Journal/Spring 1996 39

  • lzak Maitin

    Exhibit 2. Growth in Number of Pages of Federal Environmental Regulations



    Number of Pages




    0 1970 - 1975 1976 - 1980 1981 - 1985 1986 - 1990 1991 - 1996

    software packages have changed the way professionals and office work- ers conduct business. The stand-alone PC has subsequently given way to local area networking (LAN) technology, which is now commonly used by most organizations.

    Because of the ease of use of PC application software, engineers and scientists developed a variety of applications designed to support their environmental needs. Many of these applications have emerged as commercial software products focused on individual regulatory issues. As a consequence, a proliferation of commercial, point solution software

    40 Federal Facilities Environmental Journal/Spring 1996

  • GlS for lntegrating Environmental Site Remediation and Compliance lnformation

    H- Another direction for the PC user community deals directly wi th database management.

    has become available applying a variety of software tools, but there are very few attempts at integrated systems that address the full spectrum of EH&S requirements. In addition, many corporations and government agencies have developed in-house systems to support these same re- quirements. These are typically nonintegrated systems having the same characteristics as commercially available software. These difficulties have given rise to the need for information sharing among distributed users and diverse organizational entities within the same enterprise. System integration via networks and the movement toward open sys- tems that facilitate information sharing have become the direction of the information technology industry.

    During the 1980s, CAD software gained popularity and experienced a number of environmental applications, particularly associated with site investigations. CAD provides vector drawings having data content embodied in graphical representations. GIS provides intelligence to the drawing through links to database tables that relate to the drawing. As GIS technology emerged, it likewise began to be applied to environmen- tal site investigations. During the 1990s, specialized software has been developed to integrate databases with CAD files for site investigations. Further developments have included data visualization software that has been derived from defense/military applications and from medical visualization technology. These sys tems, which apply high-end UNIX workstations because of the need for large-scale transfer of 3-D graphics, continue to outpace the lower-end Intel-based PC evolution.

    Early PC applications based on DOS have given way to Microsoft Windows as the preferred user interface. DECWindows, X-Windows, Motif, OS/2, and Macintosh GUI approaches have captured the user community and have become the acceptable standards for interfacing with software and data. GIS affords another level of enhancement through the intuitive interaction with spatial objects representing facility features. Linking these objects to a relational database structure and to other functions facilitates navigation and analysis and promotes a broader and more quickly trained user base.

    Another direction for the PC user community deals directly with database management. In a stand-alone mode, problems of accessibility and currency were experienced, moving PC users from the individual desktop to servers providing access to a common database by multiple users. Concurrent access and maintenance of the database and network delays resulting from this approach have been addressed through the application of distributed databases maintained at various locations in the network and through client-server database architecture to facilitate database access and maintenance, reduce network traffic, and increase response time.

    Proprietary software has long been a standard in the computer industry and has been a means whereby hardware vendors have main- tained market share. The movement to industry standards and to open systems has been driven by a market that now resists such constraints due to the need for LAN and WAN network


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