Pollution Prevention Goes on the Road

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-11-15

Pollution Prevention Goes on the Road

Sybase Inc.s mobile database is helping south Florida keep its environment clean.

The Broward County Department of Planning and Environmental Protection uses a mobile module powered by a Sybase SQL Anywhere database, said Jeffrey Halsey, director of pollution prevention and environmental licensing management for the department, based in Fort Lauderdale.

Roger Kehl, senior product manager for Sybases iAnywhere solutions, said Broward County uses the SQL Anywhere Studio products ASA (Adaptive Server Anywhere) version as the brains for its Posse work management system for e-government and e-business. Computronix Technologies Ltd., of Edmonton, Alberta, a Sybase partner, produces the Posse remote module in use by the South Florida inspectors.

SQL Anywhere Studio is a product of iAnywhere Solutions Inc., a Dublin, Calif., Sybase subsidiary.

Click here to read more about SQL Anywhere Studio.

The Broward County Department of Planning and Environmental Protection, comprising more than 50 field inspectors using the Posse mobile application, conducts mobile field inspections for hazardous materials, storage tanks (above and below ground, storing such things as fuel), solid waste and other substances, to name a few. The department monitors groundwater quality because 95 percent of Floridas drinking water comes from groundwater. Halsey said Broward Countys water-quality monitoring program is considered a leader in the United States, as it relates to monitoring underground storage tanks. Other municipalities look to Broward as setting the standard for implementing their own programs, he said.

The Posse mobile module, known as Posse Remote, leverages SQL Anywhere for field staff such as inspectors, code and bylaw enforcement officers, case workers, and mobile service and work crews. The Posse Remote module is normally run on ruggedized handheld computers—including laptops and tablets—designed for all-weather fieldwork.

SQL Anywhere Studio features MobiLink, a synchronization server that handles the sync process using scripts that direct what actions you want to take, Kehl said. MobiLink offers bidirectional exchange of information between remote ASA databases and a variety of enterprise data sources, including Oracle Corp.s database, Microsoft Corp.s SQL Server and IBMs DB2, he said.

"The replication is custom. The central database is Oracle, and weve built a change-detection mechanism into our data-update model," said Jim den Otter, CEO of Computronix, which built the core system for the county. "Technically, we have two methods for synchronization. Broward uses the old method, requiring the client application on the handheld to actually connect directly to the central database as well as the local ASA database. The new method uses Web services through SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] calls.

"In the Broward instance, our application connects to both the ASA and Oracle databases," den Otter said. "In the ASA database, we have a change flag on our object table. To replicate, we select all changed objects and assemble a synchronization package containing all of the details for each changed object, then update these to a staging area in the central database. We wait for the central database to accept and apply the changes, then download any new items for the handheld. All updates to the ASA database are made through stored procedure calls in order to ensure that existing rows are updated and new ones are inserted."

Next Page: Offices on Wheels

Offices on Wheels

Browards Halsey said the Posse system has helped improve the quality of the reports his department makes and has increased the throughput of reports by as much as 10 percent since the department stopped making changes to the system at the beginning of the year. The system has also brought the departments inspectors into the world of high technology, equipping them with veritable offices on wheels, including laptops, digital cameras and portable copiers. Inspectors using the Posse system do not have to travel to the office as often. The department installed DSL lines in the inspectors homes so they could sync their laptops with the organizations server.

"We wanted a product that would complete inspections in the field electronically," Halsey said. The system is "highly configurable" and enables inspectors to produce signed electronic inspections and print out PDFs, along with digital photos from the sites, he said.

"The software is all easy enough to configure that the users can do it and keep the system very adaptive to our work," Halsey said.

"We have the Biscayne aquifer, where we get all of our drinking water in South Florida, so its pretty important we protect that aquifer," Halsey said. "And if you have any hazardous material of 25 gallons or more, you have to get a license."

Facilities that require licenses and inspections include, among others, auto repair shops, fuel stations, dry cleaners, paint shops and even dentists offices, Halsey said. "They all need licenses, and our duty is to inspect all these facilities to assess the risk to the environment and to public health."

Before Posse, the department relied on a system that featured lots of manual work and hand copying. "We have seen a vast improvement over what we used to have, which was handwritten copy on top of copy," Halsey said.

In addition, the department has continued to upgrade its technology, including a move to Bluetooth from USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections for the PCs and other components, Halsey said.

In the future, the department may replace the digital cameras with camera phones. "The next big push is to integrate wireless technology," Halsey said. But the department must first figure which route to take. "We considered going to hot spots, but there is a political issue of not wanting to have your inspectors linking up in Starbucks [Corp. stores]," he said. "That wouldnt look too good. But we want to get rid of paying for the DSL connections in the inspectors homes."

Meanwhile, based on the environmental protection departments success with the mobile database and the e-inspection system, some of the countys other departments are moving to adopt similar solutions.

The countys "building code services [department] looked at what we did and tweaked it for their service, and has come up with a PDA application" for its 100 inspectors, Halsey said. And the air division in the countys environmental protection department, as well as the countys revenue division, is considering adopting the system as well, he said.

Environmental agencies use IT to enhance the effectiveness of their field staff. And the flexibility of the system facilitates cooperation across federal, state and local governments, Halsey said.

For Sybases Kehl, the offline mode makes a lot of sense. "We talk about it as an always-available model, where a mobile user ought to always be able to do something when theyre out in the field. ... Its a model well-suited to the realities of the current wireless environment and the limitations of the devices."

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