As the role of government in its purest form is to govern for the benefit of its constituents. Sure, this very basic principle can be derailed, but I think it is fair to assume that environmental regulators do seek to have a positive effect on local communities.
In today’s hyper-connected world, news and opinions proliferate rapidly. This connectedness, along with higher community expectations, makes it harder than ever to keep communities that are affected by pollution satisfied that their interests are being served. News of health and economic hardships caused by various forms of pollution is not hard to find and can apply to both advanced and developing economies.
The combination of low health status, low socio-economic status and elevated pollution levels is well reported and is a driver of the Environmental Justice movement, which is spreading from California to other parts of the US and the globe. But effects of pollution on communities can also be found more widely.
A common issue that regulatory agencies have to deal with is annoyance in the community caused by exposure to odors, dust and noise. Complaints represent the tip of the annoyance iceberg in a community and are triggers for regulatory action: investigation, reporting and perhaps action to address the cause if it can be clearly identified. However, there is usually no simple, quick path from a complaint to a solution. Some nuisance issues can persist for years without full resolution. Beneath the surface of a nuisance problem there may also be exposure to toxic or hazardous pollutants.
It’s understandable that some people become cynical about the effectiveness of complaining: it is often perceived that the process does not get to the real answers. Often the feedback from the investigation is unsatisfying to the complainant: slow and inconclusive.
Officers responsible for investigating complaints, especially about odor, can be frustrated by the way the phenomena behave in the real world: ‘elusive’ is a word that comes to mind. This is compounded by the time it can take to get to the location where the complaint occurred. Delays can happen simply as a result of the complaint handling process and the physical need to travel to the area. In the end, there may be no field evidence to support the complaint and so it might take many similar events before a clear picture emerges.
All of this perceived delay and lack of results feeds back into the negative attitudes of the affected communities, making the officers’ work even more difficult. So is there a way to break this cycle?
The answer is yes, thanks to technologies that can make best use of the science that supports effective investigations. It is now possible to use mobile devices, real-time data and models to help create rapid insights into what is driving complaints – before even leaving the office or turning the vehicle around.
Imagine how much better a complainant will feel when they know you are able to report back to them in minutes with a head start on the investigation and some some vital clues. This can only help to turn around negative perceptions and be a positive step for the community.