By Rebecca Kane
When the West, Texas fertilizer plant exploded in April, my heart sank. The disaster triggered sadness for those who lost loved ones. Even after the fire was out, though, there were effects on people in the area and on the environment.
As is common with domestic environmental disasters, the West, Texas explosion resulted in a flood of calls from reporters, researchers and concerned citizens to EPA about the Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) website, which I’ve helped manage for 12 years. ECHO has become a go-to resource for information about environmental inspections, violations and enforcement actions for more than 800,000 regulated facilities.
Until today, ECHO was supported by a 23-year-old system and a web page design that had become outdated. Over time, as we added more features to the site, some users found it to be confusing and had trouble tracking down information. When there was a rush to the site like the one in April, these challenges were exacerbated, leading our team to spend hours helping people navigate the system and troubleshooting.
Today’s launch of the beta version of the new ECHO website is a game changer. The new ECHO site is more efficient, flexible and easier to use, with compelling graphics and functionality. If you’re interested in the environmental compliance history of a nearby facility or industry sector, or just want to be more informed about enforcement activity in your area, check out the new ECHO. We’ve kept the good stuff like the rich data, the robust search options, mapping and easy data downloads. And now the site is better organized, and we’ve added features like collapsible and expandable sections of data, making it easier to find information.
It’ll remain in beta form for a few weeks, and we need people like you to visit and take the new ECHO for a spin while we complete testing and add finishing touches. In addition to an improved user experience, the new ECHO also opens up greater possibilities for future enhancements like public web services that allow anyone to develop tools using the data. Your participation and input will help us continue fine tuning and rebuilding key features throughout the next year.
The work we’ve done to modernize ECHO supports EPA’s commitment to increasing transparency and empowering informed, involved citizens. Take a look and let us know what you think.
About the author: Rebecca Kane is a Program Analyst that has worked at EPA for almost 13 years. She’s spent most of her time in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance working on the ECHO website and other transparency projects.