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Here Are CIO's Tech Goals for Department of Toxic Substances Control

Jennifer Benson, CIO of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, outlines for Techwire her department's goals and priorities for the coming year.

Here is another installment of Techwire’s interviews with state chief information officers. Jennifer Benson, CIO of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), discusses some details about her department’s goals and priorities over the next year.

What technology, if any, does your department use that’s specific to its mission?
DTSC’s Office of Environmental Information Management (OEIM) provides leadership and innovative technology strategies to support the department’s mission of protecting California’s people and the environment from the harmful effects of toxic substances. Most recently, we focused our technology expertise to support emergency response efforts during the series of Northern California wildfires.

In collaboration with Cal OES, OEIM provided a geographic information system (GIS) solution that gave the emergency response management team a geographical view of regulated sites and facilities that store toxic materials and hazardous waste within the active wildfire perimeter. This gave emergency coordinators timely information about potential toxic hazards that could then be relayed to responders in the field. In the wake of the wildfires, we developed a mobile application to serve the needs of DTSC’s Emergency Response Program that aides the team in tracking the status of the removal of household hazardous waste and asbestos from burned structures and parcels.

What is the highest technology priority your department currently has?
Beyond supporting DTSC’s emergency response needs, technology solutions required for the Exide Residential Cleanup project (are) a top priority. DTSC’s plan to remove lead-impacted soil in neighborhoods around the former battery-recycling facility is the largest cleanup of its kind ever in California. OEIM is preparing for full implementation of an environmental data management solution (EDMS) that will be used to track and manage the cleanup of approximately 2,500 properties.

What is your department’s biggest technology challenge? Biggest success?
Security is another high priority, while also being one of the biggest technology challenges. Keeping DTSC’s security posture strong and employing a strategy that meets department needs and enforces state of California policies is an ongoing challenge. One of the biggest successes for OEIM was the development of a GIS mobile application, called Collector App, that was used during the initial canvassing efforts by the Exide Residential Cleanup team to collect and track access agreements for soil sampling.

What do you enjoy about working for state government and what do you like least?
Working as a civil servant has been one of the most gratifying jobs I’ve had. As a person who loves the outdoors, especially California’s landscape, working for a department that serves to protect California’s environment to keep people safe is very rewarding and extremely satisfying.

Other than technology or government, what is your dream job?
When I started learning how to program BASIC language in the '80s is when I fell in love with technology. Working for this department, as the chief information officer, is my dream job and a career goal realized. If I had to pursue another career, I have often thought about being a teacher so I can spend summers with my daughters.

What advice would you offer a vendor that wanted to pitch to you?
Describe what value the product or service brings to the department, specifically how will it help DTSC achieve its mission. A vendor’s product or service needs to bring value to the technology enterprise and our organizational objectives.

Kayla Nick-Kearney was a staff writer for Techwire from March 2017 through January 2019.