EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — June 8 2005

Data Interoperability for Incident Management
The Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL)

Chip Hines
Program Manager, Disaster Management e-Gov Initiative
Department of Homeland Security
Lee Tincher
Consultant, Disaster Management e-Gov Initiative
Department of Homeland Security

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

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]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "Data Interoperability for Incident Management: The Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL)."

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today's speaker. Chip Hines is a long-time friend of the Virtual Forum, and we are delighted that he could be with us today. He currently is serving as Program Manager for the DHS/FEMA Disaster Management eGovernment Initiative. Chip Hines has over 30 years of experience working in the emergency management field, with more than 15 of these spent developing and managing federal programs and systems designed to assist the country in being better prepared to manage emergencies. He has worked in the areas of National Preparedness, Emergency Operations, State and Local Preparedness as well as in Preparedness, Training and Exercises at the federal level.

Also on hand today is Lee Tincher, who will assist during the Q&A portion of our program. Lee has over 20 years experience in the US Military/US Government computer field. Systems development, systems/data integration, metadata definition, interoperability standards and data standards have been the primary focus of Mr. Tincher's efforts during the last 10 years.

Please see the Background Page for further biographical information and links to topic-related material. Welcome to you both gentlemen, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to Chip to start us off please.


Chip: Hines: Thanks Amy, it’s great to be here. Let me start with a quick overview of our initiative. The Disaster Management eGov initiative was established to improve the access to services and information relating to disaster without regard to the specific organization responsible. It was intended to present a functional look at how we prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster. It’s a big mission, and our goal is to not duplicate the work of others, but instead to serve as a central access point to information and services, and to facilitate the development of new capabilities for the broad emergency management community.

Over the years we have evolved into three main components. The first is an Internet portal of information and services relating to disaster. It’s available at www.disasterhelp.gov and contains consolidated information relating to disaster, with some good search tools and other capabilities. In addition to this public side, we have an area that provides a wealth of tools for people or organizations in the emergency business. We have online collaboration tools, storage space and specialty tools all available in a sensitive but unclassified environment and at no cost to the user.

The second area is designed to increase the ability of the country to plan for and respond to emergencies by making available incident management tools. We do this in several ways.

First, we provide a free set of tools for those organizations who either cannot afford commercial products or wish to start experimenting while they develop their own requirements. Since the ability to exchange information with others is vital, we have a service designed specifically for that purpose that supports all users.

But over time we recognized that we shouldn’t be the main players in emergency management software – industry can do this, and the competition is good for all concerned. So in our third area, we’ve been working to create standards to exchange information relating to emergencies and incidents. Although developing standards takes a lot of work and coordination, we think ultimately it will lead to the most important step forward in some time for emergency management – the ability, and then the culture of information sharing throughout the large emergency community.

So that our efforts can have a quick, practical payoff, we’ve also been working with a Consortium of vendors, called the Emergency Interoperability Consortium (EIC) who provide software and advanced software support tools needed by many organizations. To make this really pay off, we’ve designed our information exchange services so that these vendors can access them, and we’ve been working with them to develop standards for exchange of information between all software products. Which means that when a standard is developed the implementation process gets it into the vendor’s software quickly.

This leads us directly into the subject of today’s presentation: the Emergency Data eXchange Language, or EDXL.

Why is this important, and why should you care? The answer to this lies in a quick look around at where the country stands in terms of information exchange in emergencies. Most organizations don’t have software to help manage emergencies, and if they do, they cannot share incident information with other organizations very well. By creating standards for information exchange, we can bridge the gap between different software products.

We became quite interested in this approach while we watched the development of a standard for sending alerting information, called the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP for short. This standard was, as I understand it, initiated by the Partnership for Public Warning, and the primary author/coordinator was Art Botterell. We followed this process, and decided that we would try to adopt the model as an approach to developing more standards for exchange of information as needed by the community. We worked with Art to get this going before he moved on to other opportunities. He had proposed the EDXL as an umbrella set of standards focused on developing specific inter-professional, inter-agency emergency messages used to accomplish mission tasks, and we’ve continued with that approach.

I should note that it is not our intention to create federal standards. We are facilitating the development of international standards that are proposed and prioritized by the end users. We help draft the standards, get final approval from the end user representatives, work with the EIC who implement the standards and host demonstrations on their use in a multi-vendor, multi-product environment. When the standard reaches this point, the EIC then submits it to the OASIS organization (an international standards making body) for review and incorporation into their system.

So, what have we done so far? We followed up on the CAP effort by holding a meeting with the end user organizations, and got from them three areas that were their highest priority for information exchange.

First, they wanted to have the ability to send just about any file from one system to another. We developed a messaging draft called the Distribution Element, coordinated it, worked with the EIC to implement it and held demonstrations. EIC then submitted the draft to OASIS where it is undergoing their process which will result in a formal standard.

OASIS has a comprehensive process to ensure that the specifics of a standard are technically correct, responsive and effective. It’s a fairly long process that is well coordinated, and we’ve come to value their work. A number of changes to the distribution element draft standard have been made, and we think it will be a better standard as a result.

Since then we have also done a lot of work on the next highest priority: a resource management message standard. Essentially, this will allow users to send messages about resources (requests for resources, owner contact information, assignment and transfer information, etc) between any compliant software systems. When this is complete, we will be working on Geospatial Information System (GIS) messaging standards, and then Situation Reports. At least that is what is currently on our plate.

I’m hedging here for a very good reason. As I said earlier, our mission is to facilitate the development of standards needed by the end user community. Later this month, we will be meeting with representatives of this group to (hopefully) get formal approval of the resource messaging standard, and we will revisit the next set of standards. It’s possible that our direction will change if the committee changes priorities and adds new requirements, but that’s our role. It’s important to me that we retain our focus on what the end users need rather than what the federal government needs.

Ultimately, it’s our vision that users of incident management software will be able to exchange any information with others without regard to the specific software product they are using. We want to have a seamless transition so that information from another vendor’s product is displayed as it would normally look on the receiver’s software product.

In summary, EDXL is a family of information sharing standards that we are facilitating to allow for seamless sharing of incident information. It’s important to you because it will open up many more avenues to share information when you need to, and without the person on the other end having to figure out how to use what’s been sent.

I’m very pleased to have Lee Tincher with me today to help answer questions. Lee is the technical lead on EDXL for our initiative, and brings a wealth of expertise and experience to the project. Thanks for this opportunity to present to you. Amy, back to you for the question and answer portion.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Chip. Now, to proceed to your questions.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Valerie Quigley: Trying to understand the capabilities for information here: The IAEM listmail gets questions all the time to the subscribers about various vendors of EOC software. Lots of entities out there are struggling with this. Is this someplace they can look to get information on software out there now? Or just information on the technical aspects they should be looking for?

Chip Hines: The EIC is a consortium of vendors, and there about 70 of them. We can’t endorse any of them, but we can tell who is involved. These vendors are both EM software vendors and supporting folks such as Mitre and Oracle. [See list at: http://www.eic.org/portal/page?_pageid=73,40362,73_114272&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL]

Dan Horon: I have some patents on interoperable GIS software and many years of installations. How can I work with you guys?

Chip Hines: Good point Dan. EIC is very open, and we deal mostly through them. You can connect with them at http://www.eic.org

Ron Zuber: Are the makers of WebEOC partners in the EIC?

Chip Hines: Yes. WebEOC is in EIC, and has participated in our interoperability demonstrations. You can ask your vendor if they have versions of their software available yet. The participating vendors do incorporate the standards as part of their demonstrations, but usually wait for the standard to get final approval by OASIS before they finalize and include in their product.

Delaine Arnold: How will or does EDXL compare with or work with Global Justice XML Data Model (Global JXDM) or other formats like NENA's XML data exchange format?

Lee Tincher: This is a very complex question. We strive to be consumers of the NIEM [National Information Exchange Model, see http://niem.gov] and Global effort. We are continually interfacing with NIEM and NENA is a part of or Standards Working group (as well as constituents of IEE1512 and many others). The idea is not to re-invent the wheel and make sure we can "dovetail" into these efforts. [See EDXL white paper at: http://www.eic.org/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/EIC/EIC_HOME/TAB94290/EDXL%20OVERVIEW.PDF]

David Feeney: You mentioned there are 70 EIC members less than half are listed on the web site but based upon that list I do not see a preponderance of CAD vendors which is the primary application most public safety agencies use to initially track incidents. Are they participating and have you looked at APCO project 36 which is working to have disparate CAD's communicate?

Lee Tincher: In the case of NIEM we have adopted their IEPD approach to information sharing and are hoping that after they review what we have done we can be considered part of the Universal Core that Mike Dacconta has described.

Chip Hines: David: APCO is participating on our various working groups and in our upcoming meeting. We are also working with NENA on helping to define common terms across a number of standards-building organizations. We hope they will continue to be involved, and participate.

Stephen Adams: Chip and Lee - How do you plan to interoperate with other standards like the PHIN Directory and Alerting?

Chip Hines: Lee may have more, but we are meeting with other folks, including attending the recent PHIN (Public Health Information Network) conference.

Lee Tincher: We have attended a lot of their conferences and they are attending the standards working group (HL7 also) - so we hope that by their presence we are addressing their efforts.

Isabel McCurdy: Chip- could you elaborate who the end users are- is this first responders?

Chip Hines: Actually, I think it’s more the people who manage first responders although by extension we are probably going to have more direct contact as time goes on. The standards are used in a whole lot of applications including setting off alarms from CAP alerts, etc. We've also found that a number of organizations using our systems are quite diverse. For example we have a clergy group using our software, and thus the standards as part of their emergency preparedness work.

Scott Vander Molen: Is it possible to see the latest working draft at this time, and if not, do you an estimate of how soon we can get a look at it or a candidate recommendation?

Lee Tincher: There are actually many drafts for the different components of EDXL. OASIS (the acting Technical Committee) places the latest agreed upon ones at their web site. [See http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/documents.php?wg_abbrev=emergency] We also have working drafts in the Standards working Groups on EDXL Resource Messaging. You can email me for a copy if you would like one, but they change daily.

Stephen Adams: What is being done to integrate Incident Management and hospital admittance?

Chip Hines: There are a number of things going on, and I'm not sure I know them all, but we are working on a standard addressing hospital resource availability based upon work already being addressed by other groups, and we are adopting this into our generic resource standard.

Art Botterell: I think EIC is working on this.

Lee Tincher: Yes Art - in adopting things like the HAVE efforts into EDXL we hope to address these needs without re-inventing the wheel

Chip Hines: We also had some users of this interoperability capability in Johnstown PA comment that it’s the first time the hospital could see victim information ahead of time in a chem incident.

Amy Sebring: Chip, can you give us some general idea of who is working with you in the end users group? e.g. sectors or levels?

Chip Hines: Representatives from groups such as NEMA, IEEE, DHS, APCO, etc. We have 30 or so associations who have been invited and we can make this list available. We certainly want input from the community and it’s in our process. We've had several meetings already, and will continue to seek input from these communities. Other suggestions are welcome.

Robert Sherry: Once an OASIS standard is approved (e.g. EDXL) is it generally available or it only available to members? And relating to Scott's question, do we have to be a member to see drafts?

Chip Hines: Well this isn’t really my area. Do either Elysa or Art want to take a shot at this?

Art Botterell: OASIS standards are published at no cost and without restrictions.

Elysa Jones: They are available at www.oasis-open.org

Isabel McCurdy: Chip- Have two questions- Can any country access this system? And is Canada involved in the input / workings too?

Chip Hines: OASIS produces International standards. As I understand the CAP protocol is proposed for the tsunami warning system.

Avagene Moore: For the future, Chip, what do you envision for the EM and response community re: EDXL, all these standards, and the use of technology? As Valerie expressed earlier, I believe there is some confusion in the field and particularly in smaller communities that cannot afford the expensive software solutions. They need to be players too as we move into more expedient ways of sharing information.

Chip Hines: Of course the end state is to seamlessly exchange incident information with anyone without regard to the software they own. Since we recognize that many communities cant afford incident management software, we do produce a basic toolset, and make it available for free. The EIC members provide full, professional software for those who can afford to purchase their own. We think that between the development of standards to exchange information, and providing entry-level capability for free, we will promote the need, national capability and a strong vendor market.

Bob Weinert: Will you be working with the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) once you get into the GIS standards portion of EDXL?

Lee Tincher: Absolutely - we have already had some discussion and once we start working on GIS they will be major players. Also OGC is a member of the TC.

Stephen Adams: CAP defines the standard content of an alert message - is it implemented anywhere in any of the EOC systems? And how is it being used today?

Lee Tincher: Art can you reply to Stephen’s question?

Art Botterell: Sure. E Team has a very active interface project, interoperating with Dialogic and some siren systems, among others. Also WebEOC and Blue292 have interfaces that I know of.

There's also an interesting project in Oregon called RAINS which is moving information from a CAD system to end-users via CAP.

Elysa Jones: Examples of how CAP is being used by NWS for weather alerts www.nws.noaa/alerts as well as USGS for earthquakes, etc.

Delaine Arnold: With all the various groups/entities involved is there a focal point or someone who knows what is going on in all the groups? Would it be OASIS, DOJ, DHS or someone else?

Chip Hines: Well, there really isn’t a formal one. NIEM is working closely with GJXML and others. We are coordinating with NIEM and are formalizing our relationship. I think the coordination is building and will get stronger, but more needs to be done.

Amy Sebring: Chip, how does this relate to the technology piece of NIMS? (National Incident Management System) Are you working with Integration Center?

Chip Hines: Yes, we are working with them; in fact Richard VanDame is on line with us today. We hope that we will help drive NIMS into end user products. We got a lot of resource information from the NIMS group.

Patrick Goalwin: Are you interacting with NORTHCOM or any DoD component or DHS for terrorism-related emergencies?

Chip Hines: We do work with DOD in several areas, but our system is not used for classified work. We are providing support for use by bases in the U.S. to communicate with their surrounding communities re incident management.

Art Botterell: I just wanted to mention that there's a large effort using CAP for sensor data within this year's CWID exercise involving DoD and DoJ, and we're capturing a lot of the learnings and incorporating them into the current EDXL work in the OASIS Tech Committee.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much Chip and Lee for an excellent job. We hope you enjoyed the experience. Also thanks to Art and Elysa. Please stand by a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements.

The formatted transcript will be available later today. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page and click on Subscribe.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Corey for a fine job and excellent information.