Department of the Environment
Meta-information environmental system / European level plan-case study
Considering the fact that the Department of the Environment will soon be providing information on the environment, it has decided to create a comprehensive meta-information environmental system. This system's objective is not only to facilitate the provision of information in the structure given by environmental indicators, but also to map out thoroughly the source of this information.
"There are many useful but non-compatible data sources in the department which use many incongruous technologies (Informix, Oracle, FoxPro, ...). We have searched for a solution which would disabuse us of the dependence on these technologies and also facilitate our fully taking advantage of the informational value of data from these sources." Ing. Vladislav Bízek, CSc., deputy secretary of the environment
Information of an international character, incongruous sources
Data on the environment are obtained from sources in the department and outside the department in precisely three ways. One is regular monitoring, then regular investigation of the statistical type, and finally specialized research carried out at once or repeatedly for a definite, clearly specified purpose. In a number of cases, they are data from the Czech Republic at a professionally very high level, which is often evaluated abroad. A pronounced trait is, however, the diverse quality of the data. In addition to outstanding information, their are areas which are insufficiently monitored. The current status of information on the environment is characteristic in that no comprehensive system exists. Detailed information is frequently available at a respectable level of reliability and correctness. They are, however, dispersed and frequently overlap. The method of collecting the data is not uniform and some sectors are covered insufficiently.
The greatest information variability exists in the department of the environment. A considerable quantity of data is managed by the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute which is focused on the atmosphere and hydrosphere. Various information on the status of the environment and its components is also available in all the other institutions of the Department of the Environment. In this case, they are not only the professional institutes, but also the State Environmental Fund and the Czech Environmental Inspection. The private sector, like Povodí joint-stock companies, has important information available. Another important department which has information on the environment in its data bases is the Czech Statistical Bureau.
The Health Department has a large volume of information available. Facts on the death rate, sickness rate and health condition of the population are obtained from this department, as well as facts from long-term monitoring of the relationships between the environment and health.
Very detailed information on the status of forests and soil are also in the Department of Agriculture. Vast collections of data on the subject of foodstuffs and feeds and on water conservation exist here.
A number of other departments monitor various facts which have a direct relationship to the environment, namely the Department of Industry and Trade (facts on the power industry, industry, construction), the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior (e.g. facts on import and export), and the Treasury Department which primarily monitors the expenditures from public budgets for purposes of protecting the environment. The State Nuclear Safety Bureau should also be named, in whose framework the State Radiation Protection Institute works, which is commissioned with monitoring the radiation burden and overall radiation situation in the Czech Republic.
Scientific institutes concentrated in the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic and working in the framework of universities are an important source. Other professional institutions must also be enumerated as is the Public Opinion Institute. Non-governmental organizations and private companies have various and often very important information available in growing measure. The information in the last case are not, however, commonly available to the public.
A major shortcoming of the current situation is the nonexistent integration, compatibility and coordination of the work being carried out. One of the pronounced negative consequences of this condition is the probably considerable waste of public funds. It is almost sure that duplicity and other forms of frivolously expended funds exist. The insufficiency of information on work of others leads to the data's being collected and processed repeatedly (i.e. the food chains in four departments five times overall), and in other instances only from momentum or frivolously. The decisive authorities have until now lacked the mechanisms for detecting these facts and intermediating this information.
Until now, all efforts to integrate the information system on the environment, or more accurately put to create such a system, have failed. There are various reasons. The main reason may be considered to be that all attempts to integrate and coordinate the resource information systems were made under the a priori assumption of some sort of more or less administratively technical intervention into the existing systems. As is understandable, that encountered and always will encounter natural resistance from owners and administrators of such systems who from their own experience knew quite well that if the objective is not to replace or somehow supplant the existing IS organization, then no administratively technical interventions into the existing resource information system are necessary.
The architecture of the meta-information environmental system
The core of the meta-information environmental system is the catalog of data and information sources on
which the individual system applications depend. The system's key application is the provision of information
via a collection of environmental indicators. In order to search in the data, the applications can use both a
direct link to the data or information source (if it is defined and its owners agree to this) and a substantially
faster means of searching for information in the data storage of consolidated information, which is part of the
MEDIS´ main objectives have included from the start decision-making process support focused primarily on:
¨ rapid finding of the signal information on detection—a specialist is understandably already elaborating the
actual analysis on the given topic
¨ exposure of duplicates in the creation of data in the department—data is hierarchically ordered according to
topic; duplicate databases are found at the end of one branch
¨ exposure of uselessly created data—the information sources carry the information on the data sources
used; comparing the set of data sources used for all information sources with the set of all data sources
makes it possible to find data sources which are not used for any information source (data source probably
¨ linking applications to search engines—after finding the proper signal information (data source exists), the
system makes it possible to display the given data, e.g. as an environmental indicator or GIS map.
Ensuring MEDIS´ functionality:
¨ The most important task is to ensure the updating of information about the data sources, which is why the
administrator of each data source has direct access to the MEDIS database where he records and authorizes
each change himself.
¨ The data source administrator may provide aggregate data to the central data storage according to the
agreed methodology. The extent of data provided in this manner in principle corresponds to the extent of the
information which were previously published in another way (Annual on the Environment, Report on the
¨ The obligation to update the information about the data sources may by imposed only directly by a superior
authority, i.e. for organizations in the Department of the Environment, this obligation may be established only
by the Department of the Environment, as is the case for other departments. The task giver, however,
assumes the interest of the data source owners to present their own work in the zero additional costs.
¨ Access to one server with a MEDIS catalog is enough for each department. The information can be
selectively distributed between the departments both in the form of a replicate, which is suitable for localities
with a low compatibility of communication channels, or in the form of distribution of remote accesses via the
international Internet network or intranets of state administration. The system is designed as to ensure the
consistency of the information in the full.
The structure of MEDIS is on the enclosed picture designating the information equipment used. The various
MEDIS modules were implemented in the following manner:
1. Saving, transfers and data processing
¨ Documentation databases (Catalog of Information and Data Sources, Catalog of Methodological
Environmental Indicator Cards, Applications Management): Lotus Domino to IBM RS/6000-F40 (AIX)
¨ Consolidated Data Storage: Oracle RDBMS to IBM RS/6000-C10 (AIX)
¨ Middleware: Lotus Notes Pump v2.5a to IBM RS/6000-C10 (AIX) (along with RDBMS Oracle)
2. Application level
¨ Actual application logistics, evaluation of information links, full-text searching, references, mail, Lotus
¨ MEDIS administration: Lotus Domino
¨ Evaluation of inquires on consolidated data: Oracle
¨ Administration and updating of the data storage: Oracle
3. Presentational level
¨ The presentation of information in the "safe regime" (bilateral identification verification, encoding, access
rights): Locus Domino/Lotus Notes
¨ The presentation of information in the "public regime" (limitation to "open" standards): Lotus Domino/Free
Data source catalog, environmental indicators, data storage
Data and information sources
The description of the data source in the meta-information system is in the form of an expression of
information on the data. The data source is postulated as a collection of primary data in electronic (in the
future, in any) form.
The data source is in principle described by these parameters:
¨ Name of the data source
¨ Description (verbal description of the data source—by free text)
¨ Lists of key words for categorization
¨ Data administrator—address, contract person, telephone, e-mail
¨ Periodicity of updating the contained data
¨ Computer format, approximate size of data
¨ Accessibility—source, aggregated data, financial questions
¨ Facts for comparing the qualitative data about the data source
The information sources must also be described. Information source is understood to be information about
the aggregated datum or data where the basic condition is that the information be humanly legible (graph,
table, number, map), either in printed or electronic form. The information source may thus be an application
in the meta-information system, book publication, or WWW page.
The information source is in principle described by these data:
¨ Name of the information source
¨ Categorization, classification for sorting and searching
¨ Place where the source is publicly accessible (or where a public copy exists)
¨ Publisher, address, contact person
¨ Task giver
¨ List of the data sources used
Environmental indicators are defined based on requirements for the international evaluation and comparison
of data about the environment in the form of time series. A significant portion of these indicators is contained
in any periodic publication of the Annual on the Environment which was emulated in the creation of a set of
environmental indicators. Other documents for the proposed collection of indicators is "Environmental
Statistics," the OECD collections-Core Set x, the UN "Blue book" and Statistical Yearbook of the Czech
Republic. The collection of indicators is implemented in the form of methodological indicator cards filed in
the documentation database of "Methodological Environmental Indicator Cards and Data Sources of the
Department of the Environment." This database is an integral part of the "Environmental Indicators"
application of the meta-informational system.
Access to data takes place at three levels:
¨ by ensuring the accessible data for the Department of the Environment in the local data storage
¨ by ensuring on-line access to the provided remote data sources (e.g. WWW) by communication means
¨ by ensuring an overview of the data sources of the Department of the Environment
Consolidated data storage facilitates MEDIS users to obtain not only information on the data sources based
on an inquiry formulated by them in the "Environmental Indicators" application, but also the processed values
in the form of a table, graphs and maps. Without the existence of data storage, the comprehensive response
to the inquiry from the said application would require establishing an on-line connection of the data sources
used, which would be a difficult task.
Data is stored in a data storage with the universal structure of a database for any type of data in the field of the
environment. In terms of data sources, a solution was found in implementing the universal data input format
which will be described for each data source in the database of the methodological data source cards.