The Environmental Protection Agecncy has made some progress in their adoption of Virtual Earth geospatial platform for their mapping applications. Virtual Earth is now allowing users to plot locations of organizations and sites of interest within the EPA's Envirofacts Data Warehouse site. This site has been in existence since 1995 and allows users to get environmental information on organizations, such as: permits ... submitted reports ...waste, pollution, or chemicals discharged, etc.
Navigating the site is a bit complex. There are a lot of forms on the front end that allow the user to specify variables before searching and ultimately mapping the retrieved data. The application could benefit from having Virtual Earth on the front end to allow users to search the information they seek through data layers on the map, starting from a broad view of information and eventually drilling down on a specific location or facility to get particulars. I spoke with Pat Garvey, manager of the Facility Registry System at the EPA, about this who conceded that in their initial efforts to leverage Virtual Earth maps, developers have basically "plugged" Virtual Earth into how the EPA currently does business, partly because their database contains on the order of 2.2 million unique locations that includes a lot of dry cleaners and gas stations--facilities that most users aren't interested in and would congest a map.* Pat acknowledged that using the site for a new user can be kind of daunting but that the environmental community that has been using the system for some time would find the current inclusion of the Virtual Earth maps a great enhancement. He added that he expects they will next look to use Virtual Earth more on the front end.
I must say I am impressed by the speed of the system. While the system seems designed for mapping selected facilities, it also returns other locations and points of interest surrounding the targeted facility. This can be a lot of data returned and it is pretty quick.
As an example, when you hit the Envirofacts site, and click on Queries, you will get a drop-down box that looks like this:
I am unsure if all the pages from the Queries have been built out on Virtual Earth. Those that I tried did. If you click on FRS (Facility Registry System), you will get a form to specify the type of query you would like to perform. Just to get an idea, I suggest that you enter a zip code in the Geography Search Zip Code box. For this example, I will enter 90022, a Los Angeles zip code (have to believe there would be a lot of data for that area). Click on Search at the page bottom. This returns a tabular page of facilities for that zip code. Clicking on any one of the organizations listed--for this example I will choose CHEMRICH LABORATORIES INC--returns a report for the facility with hyperlinked fields for detailed information AND ... a button at the bottom to Map this Facility, which displays a map with the selected facility indicated by a star and surrounding facilities, identified by the Legend, also mapped with corresponding data when you hover over with your mouse. Hyperlinks in the details windows allow you to see profiles and reports for the facility or site of interest.