EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation - June 2, 2004

Emergency Provider Access Directory
Empowering Emergency Communications

Robert L. Martin
Director, Partnership Development and Communications
ComCARE Alliance

Avagene Moore, CEM
Moderator, EIIP Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!  Amy Sebring, my associate, and I are pleased to see you in our audience today.  Today's topic is "Emergency Provider Access Directory (EPAD) - Empowering Emergency Communications."

It is a pleasure to introduce our guest speaker for this session.  Robert L. Martin currently serves as the Director of Partnership Development and Communications for the ComCARE Alliance in Washington, DC.  He oversees the involvement of local, state and federal emergency response agencies in the development of ComCARE's Emergency Provider Access Directory (EPAD) and serves as a liaison between project-specific stakeholder leaders, staff, and national member organizations.

If you have not read Rob's bio and are unfamiliar with the work of the ComCARE Alliance, please check out the links given on today's background page after today's session.

Welcome, Rob Martin!  We appreciate you being here and look forward to your presentation.  Rob, I now turn the floor over to you, please.


Robert Martin: Thank you, Avagene, and welcome everyone to the EIIP Virtual Forum and today's update on the Emergency Provider Access Directory (EPAD), a developing resource tool currently being designed to empower emergency communications. Today's session will provide you a quick overview and answer four basic questions: what, why, who, and how.

First, stated simply, EPAD is an electronic database registry.  It is a self-maintained registry of emergency service agencies. It is NOT the be-all-end-all solution to solving emergency communications problems itself, but it is an empowering tool being specifically designed and developed as a means to help achieve that lofty and worthwhile goal.

EPAD will become a secure, nationally coordinated, non-proprietary, GIS-enabled directory of emergency authorities and public service providers that will enable nearly instantaneous, interoperable communication and accurate notification of emergency events and all related situations.

That is the vision.  This vision is nothing less than to promote a comprehensive "end-to-end communications system" to link the mobile public to emergency agencies, and to link those agencies together. EPAD is a tool to help accomplish the agency-coordination component.

EPAD is NOT a directory where individuals and the general public will be able to log-on through the public internet and register themselves to receive alerts, weather information, or sports scores. Several systems for providing those kinds of services already exist.

Rather, EPAD is a shared comprehensive resource for authorized agencies. And by "agencies" we mean local, tribal, state, and federal emergency response organizations and service providers, as well as the media, hospitals, utilities, schools, and private corporations.

EPAD will help provide real-time automatic routing of messages via internet protocol to-and-from authorized agencies based on their geographic and resource-specific areas of responsibility.

EPAD is being specifically designed to enable and empower other technology.  Approved agencies simply register their emergency contact information (particularly their computer I.P. addresses), what information they want, and the area for which they want it. This will be locally determined based on applicable processes, policies, and procedures. That is what EPAD is being designed to accomplish, now to consider the important trigger question of why.

To answer this most appropriately, first ask yourself a few additional questions:

Do you have a data communication system linking your agencies or are you still relying exclusively on voice communication?

Can all the emergency agencies in your region quickly share information without making separate phone calls to each one?
What about in your state?  Can the state or federal government share information with your local leaders?

Do your local agencies have a directory of other emergency provider agencies, and if so, how is it kept up to date?

Are your local providers included others' directories?

Are those directories up to date?

As basic as it may sound, there is currently no comprehensive national directory of emergency provider agencies. Most organizations struggle to maintain phone numbers, email addresses, and basic contact information for their own, limited uses.

Rather than everyone involved in emergency services creating and maintaining their own disparate directory systems, we think it's much easier and more cost-effective to involve constituents and participate in a standardized national directory development process.

One integrated and shared directory system will result in more resources-both time and money-being available to serve other important areas rather than in building and maintaining multiple, redundant, and even conflicting, individual directories. This is why we need EPAD.  This is a critical missing link in the infrastructure of the emergency response community in America that impairs the ability for any of these agencies to respond together with other agencies in a rapidly coordinated manner to individual or mass emergencies. 

Our country's 9-1-1, public safety, government, transportation, and public health agencies face heavy communication and interoperability challenges. Highlighted garishly in the recent 9/11 commission hearings is the critical need for "interoperability" in emergency communications.  Traditionally that term's use has been confined almost entirely to the realm of voice two-way radio systems used by field first-response agencies for at-scene communications. But this is far too limiting. The interoperability challenge extends well beyond two-way radios.

The problem of regional, state or national communications is particularly acute because, remarkably, many of the nation's 80,000 emergency agencies still have little to no data communications capability at all.  Of course EPAD won't change any of this capability, but its availability will encourage and help motivate positive change.  Make sense so far?

So... who is developing and coordinating EPAD?  Well, EPAD is a project of the ComCARE Alliance, funded in part through an initial $1.7 million federal grant from the Department of Justice, and supported through the work of eight constituency Working Groups. The Working Groups include leaders and forward-thinking representatives from local, state, and federal agencies, emergency medicine and EMS, emergency management and alerting, public safety, business, and transportation. Each is coordinated through ComCARE.

For anyone who may not know, ComCARE stands for Communications for Coordinated Assistance and Response to Emergencies. We are a broad-based non-profit national coalition of more than 90 organizations.  ComCARE members represent diverse interests, including those of nurses, physicians, EMTs, dispatchers, 9-1-1 directors, emergency managers, transportation officials, wireless, technology and transportation companies, public safety and health officials, law enforcement, automobile companies, consumer organizations, telematics suppliers, safety groups, and others.

For a current list of our membership see http://www.comcare.org/membership/memberlist.html.

The common thread in this diverse coalition is that all our members are working to encourage the deployment of life saving communications technologies that will enhance America's public safety response network.  They share our vision for a coordinated "E-Safety Network."

So then, how is EPAD being developed and how will it be sustained?  To really understand why and how EPAD is being developed, it's important to appreciate from where it comes.  EPAD is not one person's idea or one organization's proprietary product. It truly comes from a shared vision.  Many organizations have identified the need for a national data communications and information technology architecture based on open, non-proprietary standards and a shared, "spatially aware" directory of network users.

The beginnings of EPAD date back four years to the recommendations of the National Mayday Readiness Initiative (NMRI) sponsored by ComCARE and the US Department of Transportation and involving many allied industry organizations.  Initial discussions actually go back even further to the recommendations encouraged in the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, which called for a process of statewide, coordinated planning for emergency communications.

But it was in 2000 when NMRI formally called for a wide variety of specific steps to upgrade the nation's emergency response communications and information technology infrastructure and the initiative for EPAD was born. Different emergency agencies' information systems -- computer-aided dispatch systems, emergency-management information systems, public health systems, wireless data systems in the field, and many others should be able to all exchange up-to-the-minute information.

This need abruptly became more urgent on September 11, 2001.  Several local technology trials and subsequent discussions followed, coordinated by ComCARE,  culminating in the awarding of the grant last year from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, through assistance from Senator Conrad Burns and other political leaders.

The EPAD project has made significant progress since the beginning of 2004. It is being formally managed and activity is being tracked in order to achieve the four major goals specified in the grant proposal.  Those goals are:
  1. to engage key constituencies (that includes YOU!);
  2. to design, implement, test and deploy technical facilities for a national EPAD;
  3. to demonstrate and evaluate the role of EPAD in at least two statewide and one nationwide demonstration applications, and;
  4. to institutionalize EPAD as a sustainable program (which is KEY.)
Sustainability plans include the development of a long term organizational plan and revenue model for prudent fiscal management, administered through the direction of a public/private EPAD board. 

The biggest challenges aren't so much technical as they are institutional. It's not a question of ignorance or willingness.  It's typically a question of steeped tradition, "turf," and political and organizational barriers to "intra-connectivity."  Achieving systems interoperability in today's high-tech, modern world should be simple.  Private industry has already developed and proven standard methods for linking diverse data systems into a coherent national and global architecture.  Myriad "islands" or "silos" already exist capable of accomplishing this. They just need to be connected.

Populating EPAD will require a concerted and coordinated initiative within each state and region. The Governor and other political leaders will need to bring all parties involved in emergency response together to register their information into the directory.

While enormous political and operational challenges with legacy systems obviously exist, connecting end-to-end communication for emergency providers is an undertaking worth accomplishing.  Realizing this potential through the creation of EPAD will dramatically and positively impact community safety and emergency response. 

Success will require the continued efforts of a "coalition of coalitions," representing numerous diverse stakeholders to enable new technologies to help agencies help themselves-and each other.

So, that's what EPAD is about in a nutshell.  For more information about EPAD and the ComCARE Alliance, I refer you to our website at http://www.comcare.org/projects/epad.html.  Be sure to view the EPAD Flash Introduction. 

That concludes my formal remarks and I now return you to our moderator.

Avagene Moore: Thank you very much, Rob. EPAD sounds like a very interesting project and a useful tool. I am sure our audience has questions for you.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Bary Lusby: I understand the need for the national registry, but isn’t the communication backbone already being developed by the Disaster Management Interoperability Services?  Have you looked into their architecture?

Robert Martin: Good question, Bary. Understanding the need is only part of the struggle as everyone feels their (usually proprietary) solution is the "answer."  Disaster Management Interoperability Services is one of these we refer to as "silos" or "single-purpose."  EPAD would enable that system (and others like it) to send and receive queries beyond the scopes of itself.  Hopefully that makes sense.

Carlton: Given silos and such, will EPAD allow silos connected to migrate toward shared data, hence a national directory?

Robert Martin: Yes, EPAD is being specifically designed as a shared non-profit resource.  It is out hope that silo systems will use it as a resource.

Ray Pena: I'm the Emergency Manager for a metro area. A major event occurs. How do I/can I use EPAD? What can EPAD do for me that other systems that I know and trust aren't already doing? Start at the beginning. 

Robert Martin: Great question, Ray. The truthful answer is no other system out there is doing what EPAD plans to enable.  Right now when a major event occurs you have a list or a directory of some kind, no doubt.  Typically this is a list of phone numbers perhaps (you can tell us better actually) or maybe you have a list of email addresses or pager numbers.  EPAD will enable a single geo-spatially oriented query.  You can use your own technology of choice to send a message to everyone authorized and registered for that kind of event in that specific area WITHOUT your having to know who they are (or keep that list updated yourself).

Joe Sukaskas: Although you have not provided any details, I gather that EPAD is a web-based service.  How would EPAD function when/if the Internet is either very congested, or just plain down?  By the way, the "Sample EPAD Web Interface" link does not provide what I would consider a sample or screenshot; if that sample interface is up and running, how can we get there?

Robert Martin: Okay Joe, let me answer in two parts.  EPAD is Internet protocol based.  We're using the public Internet right now for trials and tests but that isn't necessarily where the production EPAD (or EPADs?) will reside.  In the not too distant future we can see the creation of separate and secure Internet protocol networks specifically for DHS use (for example).  EPAD will grow into itself as it becomes mature.

Part two of your question is related to the existing prototype.  The prototype we've used to register people to date is at http://epad.us.  It was programmed by DICE Corporation to test the technical feasibility.  You can go try to register yourself right now and walk through the screens.  That is how you'll be able to get to the sample screens.  Even though the production version won't look like what you see there now.   The RFP for an "alpha" version of a production EPAD is going out next month.

Robert Weeks: From the field stand point (city EOC), how will we be able to access and feed data that is usable up-state and beyond that will help us? Does EPAD dead head at the County EOC? How is the priority packet coding working out?

Robert Martin: Robert, I see three question marks there.  et me start with data accessibility.  EPAD is being spec'ed and designed to import/export using standard XML.   ComCARE has helped develop two data sets already, CAP and VEDS.  That's the Common Alerting Protocol and the Vehicular Emergency Data Set (for telematics like OnStar and ATX).  If you have tools available that can interface through XML then you'll be able to use EPAD.

To the other part of your question - the County EOC might be the authorizing body in your area, but not necessarily in another. That depends on local policy and EPAD won't change any of that.

For priority packet coding, that's more a question for the tech-types, but solutions will be recommended by the vendor(s) and specs will be in the RFP.

AJLee: What is EPAD’s model for qualifying and credentialing its resources?  If I'm using EPAD while under the gun, how can I be sure I'm being connected with the right resources?

Robert Martin: Excellent concern.  EPAD is being specifically designed to be super-redundant and "self-healing" using technologies that already exist in private enterprise.  As to content qualifying, that's what our advisory working groups are working on right now.   To be frank, the matter of who has a right to authorize that XYZ agency is really XYZ agency with authority for that area, changes from place to place.  So, for testing it's been easy to link properly credentialed users, but that will change as the system grows.

Amy Sebring: Do you feel that in order for EPAD to be viable, it will need to achieve a critical mass of registrants, and if so, what is the strategy to reach it?  (If you build it, they won't automatically come, in my experience.)

Robert Martin: Absolutely Amy.  What we call "critical mass" is key.  We already have certain regions crying out for this NOW, while others are standing around waiting to see.   The so called "early adopters" always get to work out the bugs first I suppose.  Our strategy has been that ComCARE is in a somewhat unique position to tackle this shared resource right now.  We are targeting areas where the tools and support already exist to show that this isn't "just another bright idea."  So far no one else is proposing a non-proprietary solution and no one else has received funding for such a thing.  But it needs to happen in some fashion in the same way the public internet happened - driven by the people who use it.

Carlton: Has a list of candidate state or local projects/systems been compiled for possible candidate EPAD trials/tests?

Robert Martin: Yes.  Actually the grant calls for 3 tests.  That's our initial seed money to pay for at least 2 regional and 1 national trials.  We completed a first demonstration in March in the Pacific Northwest.  And are currently working on a national capitol region trial (mid-atlantic states).  The national trial will be in the Fall and involve anyone who wants to participate.  It will be themed around a "national emergency alerting month" and culminate in a day here in Washington to call awareness to the fact that agencies all across the country can (and ARE) sharing information in real time using internet protocol and XML.   More on that will follow so watch the ComCARE website and subscribe to our update e-zine "This Week in E-Safety" to be sure to receive notice.  Also, if a particular state or agency wants to partner with ComCARE to help find funding for additional trials and tests we're definitely open to that.

Isabel McCurdy: Rob, is EPAD a closed system? Wondering if we Canadians will be able to access too?

Robert Martin: Good question!  EPAD is an open system.  That's why it's different from what's currently "out there"  It's just that initial funding is from USDOJ for feasibility trials here in the U.S., but we're already talking with Canadians (and some in the U.K. too) about this.

Rick Tobin: One qualification of a vendor that should be considered is their E&O for terrorism products, whether plans or materials or services.  Some companies are not telling their insurers the full extent of what they do. The Feds indemnified some companies, but not all.  If there is a lawsuit due to poor performance, and an insurer backs out because of misinformation, losses could then falls on the jurisdiction.  Have you looked into this in your screening process?

Robert Martin: Good point Rick.  On this I have to honestly say, "I don't know."  (Mama taught me to admit when I don't know something which is often.)  The RFP is still in development.  I will absolutely inquire about requirement to ask about insurance for prospective vendors.

Ray Pena: You mentioned earlier that Emergency Managers would be able to activate agencies/people they don't know and lists they don't maintain. We derive benefit from maintaining that information. Will I lose that benefit by signing up with EPAD?

Robert Martin: Hmmm, this question is threat vs. benefit.  We would absolutely expect you to keep doing what you're doing in maintaining typical contact information for specific purposes.  But consider a non-typical purpose - how can you get info from a neighboring state or jurisdiction (or one across the country) quickly when an emergency need arises?  The only way is to share lists.  We've also found that self-registration is the only way to ensure they are up to date and then to actually USE them.  Agency information changes less than individuals, but it does change.  The benefit you realize from EPAD is that of a shared resource so you have to give some in order to receive the same though.

Avagene Moore: Rob, is EPAD envisioned as a free service or a fee-based subscriber service for the broad EM community?

Robert Martin: Ah, in getting toward the end of our time we have to get to the dollar question!  Free is always nice, but nothing is ever really "free."  In order to have a viable and sustainable and useful shared tool someone has to pay for it.  So, to answer your question succinctly, it's going to be fee-based.  We just don't know what kind of structure exactly will work best yet, but it will likely be based on subscription.

Carlton: City and County EOCs call on the Sate EOC for State assistance and to qualify for State or Federal funding for declared disaster/emergency incidents.  Will EPAD respect that so as not to compromise expense reimbursement as EPAD allows requests to conceivably cut across the chain of command?

Robert Martin: Great point and I'll make my answer quick.  EPAD won't work in an area where it doesn't respect the chain of command.  It has to. 

Anyone with further questions can email to [email protected] .


Avagene Moore: That's all we have time for today.  We greatly appreciate your efforts and time on our behalf today, Rob.  Thank you! And we wish you great success as you continue the EPAD work.  Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

We have one new Partner to announce this week: ID America http://www.IDbadges.com with Charlie Ross designated at the Point of Contact to the EIIP.  Welcome ID America!
Sydne of ID America was with us earlier.

If your organization or agency is interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the Partnership link on our home page.

Again, the transcript will be posted later this afternoon and you will be able to access it
from our home page.

Thanks to all for being here today.   Special thanks to Rob. Help me show our appreciation to him. The EIIP Virtual Forum is adjourned.