Environmental Health Division, 1241 E. Dyer Road #120, Santa Ana, CA 92705
CUPA agencies come in all sizes from small rural agencies to large urban ones. Our CUPA profiles have visited Calaveras County, Sacramento County and San Francisco, each unique in its own way. This time we go down south to Orange County and check in with Darwin Cheng their CUPA Program Manager. Darwin has been with Orange County Environmental Health since 2007, he is the current chair of the California CUPA Forum (CFB) and sports a law Degree from Western State University of Law, which makes his appointment as the CFB enforcement issue coordinator a good fit.
Orange County is more populous than 21 states, is home to the happiest place on earth and has a wide array of industries. Orange County Environmental Health (OCEH) delivers all of the traditional health programs from housing to food safety with a staff of approximately 200, 37 of which are in the CUPA program. OCEH is also the CUPA for the entire county.
Darwin likes to think of his unit as a well-oiled machine. In this age of technology with apps for everything, smart phones, tablets and laptops the importance of personal interaction and customer service is often lost, but not in Orange County, where customer service is the cornerstone of this CUPA. OCEH offers a variety of compliance assistance resources and one industry favorite is the California Environmental Reporting System (CERS) Lab held every Thursday from January to April. At the lab staff teaches businesses to navigate through and comply with CERS, providing the laptops and helping attendees enter or update their information. Thousands of businesses each year take advantage of this opportunity, enabling business to comply and ultimately making the inspectors job easier. This mutually beneficial service is truly customer service at its best.
The CUPA program has developed over the years and the technical expertise required for inspection staff has constantly increased. OCEH inspectors are proficient in all CUPA programs areas which makes keeping staff well trained a constant challenge. Like most agencies in the state OCEH staff attends the CUPA conference, specialized training for enforcement and investigation, the Basic Inspector Academy and other training opportunities. In addition to this classroom training OCEH has developed a FREE on-line UST training for inspection staff that helps them in preparing for their ICC certification. This online training allows staff to study for the ICC exam when it fits their schedule, eliminating multiple days of classroom training making it an efficient and cost effective alternative. OCEH intends to roll this training out soon and offer it to CUPAs statewide. This type of leadership is what makes the CUPA program so unique, the sharing of resources and the willingness to develop a training program and then with no strings attached offer it to other agencies. This has happened over and over, CUPAs sharing what they develop because they have the ability, resources and recognize the statewide benefit. Agencies of all sizes will benefit from this on line UST training for years to come.
This same big picture thinking applies to how they regulate. The CUPA program started with the regulation of traditional industries and as it matured other areas of regulatory oversight have emerged. Retailers have become a significant part of the CUPA regulated facilities. Large big box stores got the message early that outdated and retrograde retail products may be hazardous and were required to be disposed of properly. It took more time for that same message to get to the smaller chains, mom and pop retailers and salon suppliers. OCEH works hard to educate and assist these smaller businesses to understand the regulations and comply. Darwin believes the best approach is to work with the retail industry to develop environmentally responsible regulations and guidelines for all retailers in California and hopefully nationwide.
As the third largest county in the state with more than 8,000 regulated facilities OCEH has their work cut out in delivering all of the CUPA programs. Thankfully they have some partners helping, the six Participating Agencies (PAs) that deliver portions of the program. OCEH has developed a symbiotic relationship with their PAs, working together just like it was envisioned when the program was developed. OCEH meets with the PAs quarterly, assists with enforcement, provides support with emergency response when requested and even shares the CERS portal lab training with the PAs regulated community, truly working together for the common goal of regulatory compliance.
This well-oiled machine takes pride in their experienced and proficient inspectors. That makes the staff particularly attractive to other agencies when hiring, success often results in staff turnover, creating a constant need for new inspectors. That is why OCEH has developed an intern program that helps put the CUPA program on college graduates radar as a career. The intern program is about 10 weeks long and offers students a chance to see what CUPAs are all about. Participants are given a project that fits their skill set with an opportunity to actually produce a product that is tangible. An example project is the resources for industry on the OCEH website which contains guidance for complying with the Haz Waste, Haz Mat, UST and APSA programs. The internship lets OCEH get to know the student, their strengths, work ethic and most importantly their interpersonal skills. As Darwin says, those people skills are imperative, you can train folks on the technical aspects of the program, but common sense and people skills are the foundation of a successful CUPA program.
Irrespective of size, Unified Program Agencies in every city and county in California continue to work together to protect and educate their communities. Orange County has always demonstrated the leadership and innovation that has made the CUPA program a regulatory model. So whether you are visiting the happiest place on earth, the Golden Gate Bridge or the majestic Sierras there is always CUPA on duty. The challenges, hazards, geography and demographics may vary but they share a common mission, to protect their communities one inspection at a time.