Friday, July 2, 2010

CFATS Knowledge Center

Readers of this blog are almost certainly aware of the high regard I have for the folks at ISCD for the way they manage their internet communications. The web sites for CFATS are well managed without a lot of the flash that is the rage in most of the internet community. The one page that I have written about the most and have the most respect and praise for has been the CSAT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. You can imagine my initial shock and horror when I found out that that page no longer exists. That page has been replaced by the CFATS Knowledge Center. My initial response was that I needed to fire off an angry accusatory blog castigating the folks at DHS for yet another move that was anti-open government. But to write an effective broadside I needed to explore the page in detail. The more I looked, poked and prodded the more I realized that my initial response was unfounded. While there are portions of the page that I don’t like very much, this page expands on the information sharing standard of the old FAQ page, providing more detailed and inclusive information about the CSAT tools and the CFATS program. The only real problem with the page is that it does take some poking and prodding to understand all that is available on the page. It really does need to have some sort of page overview that tells user’s what is where and how to get the information out. I guess that that is my job…. Page Organization The basic page layout is deceptively simple. As is usual with DHS web sites, there is no video, sound, or other high-bandwidth options cluttering the page. There are six content areas on the page with a band of oversized buttons dividing those areas into two groups. The content areas are:
Top Articles Top FAQ Latest News Documentation Help Options Downloads
The last two are the easiest to explain. The ‘Help Options’ area provides a link to the Help Desk Web Form that allows submissions of written questions about the CSAT tools and CFATS management. It also provides a phone number to call to actually talk to someone at the Help Desk ((866) 323-2957); it should have included the hours of operation for the Help Desk (presumably still Monday-Friday 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., Eastern Time) but it doesn’t. The ‘Downloads’ area provides links to two software programs from outside organizations that may be necessary to access information or perform operations within the tools. These include Adobe Acrobat Reader® (and DHS forgot the ® which is required by Federal law) and RMP*Comp (the EPA program to compute danger areas for chemical releases). The Adobe plug-in is necessary to read all of the CSAT tools documentation and the RMP*Comp is required to complete the SVA. I would have thought that it would have been smart to include at least one of the longitude/latitude tools needed for the Top Screen. The area labeled ‘Latest News’ also looks to be fairly straightforward. Right now there is only one item in this area; an announcement that this page is replacing the old CSAT FAQ page. I would like to see each entry here dated so that infrequent visitors to the page could have some idea how old the ‘latest news’ actually is. The ‘Documentation’ area is just slightly less obvious in its purpose. The first entry is a link to the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards web page. All of the other links are to various documents that explain the various CSAT tools. To avoid having too lengthy a listing they use a series of page number links for additional items on the list. Clicking on the ‘2’ takes one to the next five documents on the list, and the ‘3’ to the last five documents. Nothing else on the page changes when you click on the link to the next ‘page’. I would have used a pull down menu to list all fourteen documents (and skipped the web page), but this works fine. Top FAQ The ‘Top FAQ’ area is where it starts to become less clear. At the top of the area is a ‘Sort By’ pull down menu with only three options; ‘Most Accessed’, ‘Highest Rated’, and “Date Published’. Below that pull down menu only eight FAQ are listed as links to the appropriate response. As you would expect, the FAQ listed depends on which of the three choices is selected from the menu. This means that you can only access, at most, 24 of the nearly 1700 FAQ on the old FAQ web site from this area of the page. When you click on one of the listed fax you are taken to a completely separate page entitled ‘FAQ Details’. That page lists the FAQ number, the actual question, and the date published. That ‘date published’ is slightly different wording than CSAT folks used to use; formerly it was ‘last modified’. I am going to assume that they are really saying the same thing; it certainly looks that way. The response to the question is contained in a blocked out area on the page. To the right hand side of that area is a scroll bar. Playing with the response it quickly becomes obvious that it is in a separate .PDF format, though you cannot apparently access the .PDF file name. Security settings are set to allow copying and printing. Unfortunately, the way this is organized you cannot copy the FAQ number, question, date and response as a single item. From what I can see, the FAQ responses on the new page are essentially identical to the ones that were on the old CSAT FAQ web page. The changes are a little bit more difficult for the way that I use the FAQ responses, but they are designed more for the person that is looking for specific information. I’ll just have to figure out how I’m going to keep track of the periodic changes in the FAQ responses. At the bottom of each FAQ page are two completely new areas. The first area is the ‘User Feedback’ area including a FAQ rating (1 – Does Not Meet Expectations to 5 – Significantly Exceeds Expectations) and a place to add specific comments about the FAQ. The other area is the ‘Related Contact’ area where there are eight additional related FAQ questions. Top Articles A completely new addition is the ‘Top Articles’ section. The FAQ come from actual and specific questions that have been asked by members of the chemical security community. The articles, on the other hand are explanations that come from the DHS personnel and provide wider explanations of critical pieces of the CFATS process. They receive the same series of numbers as the FAQ, but the responses are much longer. At this point there are only four actual ‘Articles’ posted on the CFATS Knowledge Center. I would assume that over time there will be more added to this site. The currently available articles are:
How DHS Notifies a Facility of Its Preliminary or Final TieringCSAT User Account PasswordsHow DHS “Tiers” Chemical FacilitiesConsolidating CSAT User Accounts
FAQ Buttons To access the remainder of the FAQ you have to click on one of the eight buttons arrayed horizontally across the middle of the CFATS Knowledge Center page. Each button corresponds to a different area of the CFATS program. Those buttons are:
User Registration (2 Articles, 62 FAQ) Top Screen (0 Articles, 147 FAQ) Security Vulnerability Assessment (0 Articles, 67 FAQ) Site Security Plan (0 Articles, 47 FAQ) Inspection (0 Articles, 0 FAQ) Personnel Surety (0 Articles, 0 FAQ) CVI (0 Articles, 20 FAQ) Appendix A (0 Articles, 107 FAQ)
This means that the 1600+ FAQ that could be found on the old page are now just limited to 450 FAQ. I’m not sure if they just haven’t gotten the rest of the FAQ added to this new page yet, or if the missing FAQ have simply been eliminated. When you push on anyone of the buttons you are taken to a page that provides access to the various FAQ and Articles. Each of these pages contains identical areas; ‘Search Criteria’, ‘Related Documentation’, and ‘Search Results’. The ‘Search Criteria’ section provides a series of input boxes and pull-down menus to help the user define the search criteria used to find specific FAQ pages. If no search criteria are entered, there is a sequential listing of all of the Articles and FAQ in that subject area (identified on the button) with six listed on each page. Immediately below the ‘Search Criteria’ is a section called ‘Related Documentation’ it provides links to the CSAT documents related to the topic of the selected button. Each listing on the page provides the Article name or FAQ question, a short portion of the response, the Article/FAQ number and the date published. The Article name or FAQ question is actually a link to the same type page I described in the other FAQ response section of the Knowledge Center. My Evaluation This new Knowledge Center page has the potential to be an even better information source than the old FAQ page. It will be a little bit harder for me to keep up with the changes and additions to the FAQ and Articles, but the normal user should find it to be a good source of information. I am a little concerned about the relatively small number of FAQ accessible from this new page. There was certainly some amount of duplication of FAQ responses on the old page, but I don’t think that there were only 450 unique responses. There is a possibility that there was a significant amount of consolidation. I do hope that there are some more FAQ to be added (particularly in the ‘Inspection’ and ‘Personnel Surety’ areas).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

PJ, I agree with your evaluation the knowledge center will have the potential to be a good information source. However for facility users that are not as computer savvy as I am, not knowing where to find information in such searches by using keyword and wild card characters can be troublesome. I'd sure like to see the FAQs in the future contain a reference to the specific numbered question one would find in the information gathering processes of Registration, Top-Screen, SVA, and SSP; eg [Q:7.005-14425] from the SSP questions. Using these numbers as a way to cite the pertinent information source would be useful in many ways. Certainly, it would be easier to use as a keyword. I also agree, I could not find the same number of FAQs as was listed in the old format and I am troubled by that.

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