EIIF Final Report

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DO NOT EDIT - THIS IS THE LAST VERSION

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EIIF Final Report (Final DRAFT)

Editor: Chamindra de Silva, LSF/Virtusa

Contributors:

Executive summary

The Emergency Information Interoperability Framework Incubator Group (EIIF XG) has demonstrated in its period of activity the large scope of the standardisation effort required in the emergency management / humanitarian response domain. To evaluate feasibility, the group worked on and piloted concepts on the specific use case of "Who is doing What Where," which is a common information coordination pattern in this domain. The main results of this effort, as committed to in the goals of the EIIF XG, are the emergency management information standards review, in draft form, and a framework document surrounding the use case (ontology, scenario definition, standards gaps), in final form. However the group also delivered many valuable by-products, including a review of emergency management systems, and references to popular glossaries/control vocabularies and prevalent regulations in the domain. A proposal has been made in this final report for further evolution and investment in the much-needed work outcomes of this group. The benefit of this proposal lies in expanding the scope of the EIIF effort, which will help to promote standardisation and ultimate efficiencies in system to system interoperability, providing the time- and mission-critical end results in humanitarian response.

Background to the EIIF XG

The EIIF XG was formally convened in January 2008 to explore the goal of the assessment and creation of interoperability standards in the emergency and disaster management domain. It concluded its work in June 2009. The emergency management community encompasses a broad spectrum of local, national and international organisations. Comprehensive emergency management is generally composed of four key phases: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This incubator group aims to encourage the emergency management community in the development of clearly defined vocabularies and a framework for information interoperability to ensure the meaningful sharing and aggregation of information to assist in emergency functions.

The need for interoperability standards in emergency management

The wide range of organisations involved in emergency management requires a collaborative approach to the sharing of information. Information systems to support a collaborative approach to emergency management can add significant value, especially as the scope and scale of an event increases, and with it the volume of information that is required to be managed and shared. It is essential that information is stored and communicated in common formats to ensure that information can be easily exchanged and aggregated to support decision making. A key component of this process is ensuring that consistent definitions (vocabulary) are used to support meaningful sharing of information.

Rationale and sponsors for a W3C incubator group

The rationale for the selection of the W3C as the host for this activity was based on its enforcement of a royalty free policy, its reputation, and its ability to be a transparent and non-partial host for the assessment and formation of standards in this area. The group was initially discussed by Tim Berners-Lee; then sponsored by the W3C members Google, IBM, NICTA and SICS; and co-chaired by Renato Iannella from NICTA (Australia) and Chamindra de Silva from LSF/Virtusa (Sri Lanka). The initial group of members were recruited at an ad-hoc session at the ISCRAM (Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management) International Conference in 2007 (Delft, the Netherlands).

Participation and collaboration

Participation in the group was from a diverse community spread around the world from Australia, UK, Canada, Sri Lanka, Italy, U.S., and Thailand, to name but a few. The group used regular teleconferences, a public mailing list and a WIKI to enable collaboration. The XG members formally held a face-to-face meeting after the 2008 ISCRAM International Conference (Washington D.C., U.S.) and held associated special sessions on standards and ontologies at ISCRAM 2009 (Goteborg, Sweden).

Deliverables

The deliverables of the EIIF XG were identified as the group progressed; however, as the scope of these deliverables was sizable, a slice of them was taken as proof of concept for the incubator group, to be further developed in any groups that might follow the XG.

The deliverables were identified as:

  • XG Report on the current state-of-the-art of vocabularies and terminologies used in emergency management. Found on the WIKI here
  • XG Report on an interoperability information frameworks for emergency management. Found on the W3C Web site here
  • Final XG Report with recommendations for future activities (this report)

Scope of the incubator group

The XG scope focused on the coordination use cases of:

  • Who is doing What Where - Identifying and sharing information on all relief agencies, their contacts, services and areas of operation in a emergency or disaster
  • Missing people tracing - Gathering, identifying, matching and finding lost persons in a disaster, working between relief agencies responding to a emergency or disaster

The use-case based approach for knowledge discovery

The analysis for the framework report took a use-case or scenario driven approach to ensure we kept the assessments and recommendations grounded pragmatically in the emergency management domain. Two main use-cases were identified for assessment, namely, as mentioned above, the "Who is doing What Where" (also known as "3W") and the Tracing Missing People use-cases.

The approach taken for the use-case based assessment of existing standards was recommended as follows for this XG:

  1. Define meta-framework
  2. Describe use-case - The Emergency Management Coordination Use-Case Problem was clearly defined (3W Example).
  3. Vocabulary discovery - This was accomplished through conceptual models, Web 2.0 tag clouds and mapping to emergency phases (Conceptual Mind Map and Tag Cloud Example)
  4. Ontology creation - This involved defining a model of reality for emergency management interoperability.
  5. Discover domain standards - This involved finding existing interoperability standards for the domain that would match parts of the ontology.
  6. Explore out-of-domain standards- Existing interoperability standards not targeted for this domain were identified as potential candidates.
  7. Systems discovery - Existing systems were identified including how they adopted the current standards.
  8. Assess interoperability standard gaps - Gaps in the ontology where interoperability standards did not exist were highlighted.
  9. Assess systems gaps - Current support for the identified interoperability standards were checked against systems to identify the implementation gaps.
  10. Recommendations - Interoperability standards were recommended and the creation of interoperability standards in areas of gaps was suggested.

As of today, most of the steps above were completed for the W3 use case in the framework report.

The emergency management ecosystem

The emergency management and disaster management domains consist of a number of stakeholders, with different roles, objectives and interests. These collectively form the ecosystem in the EM domain. Development of IT standards must address the drivers and obstacles that influence practical adoption of such standards. Successful standards take advantage of the interests (today as well as tomorrow) of these stakeholders.

The following major stakeholders are identified:

  1. State-based emergency management agencies - Dedicated EM agencies at the national level and the main stakeholders in emergency response. Typical examples are police, ambulance and fire departments. Most countries now have a dedicated emergency management agency (e.g., FEMA in the U.S.).
  2. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) - Often called Civil Society, these are donor funded organisations that can be quite diverse and can be separated into advocacy based or operational. Examples are Rotary, Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies, and CARE.
  3. International coordination agents - When the scope of the emergency is beyond the capacity of the nation, international coordination agents step in to provide support. Examples are UNDAC, UN OCHA, ICRC, WHO.
  4. ICT solution providers - Technology and services providers for relief agencies. Example include MapAction, Reliefweb, Ushadhi, Sahana, GDACS.
  5. EM/NGO professional and academic communities - Forums for EM and NGO professionals. Examples include ISCRAM, IAEM, NetHope.

During the incubator group the majority of the work was being done by members from the ICT solution provider group, academia and forums, and state-based EM teams. Moving forward, we would like to engage more with international coordination agents, professional communities, and non-governmental organisations.

Existing standards and technology

Existing emergency management systems

As part of the discovery process, we identified many information systems that are available in the domain; however there is certainly a lack of good interoperability standards and thus very little scope for the effective integration of these systems to provide a holistic disaster coordination solution. Many systems have been discovered by the EIIF community with the help of other supporting communities such as Humanitarian-ICT and ISCRAM. A WIKI page has been created to catalogue these systems on the EIIF portal.

Existing emergency interoperability standards

The group also catalogued a list of relevant emergency management standards in the WIKI at http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/eiif/wiki/EMInfoStdsReview. One of most significant activities on standards is by the OASIS group in the creation of EDXL (Emergency Data Exchange Language) and CAP (Common Alerting Protocol). Others have included the development of PFIF (People Finder Interchange Format) that came out of the Katrina People Finder Project, the NIEM (National Information Exchange Model), and CWML/TWML (Cyclone and Tsunami Warning Markup Language, respectively). However, a number of standards suffer from being confined and biased to one particular jurisdiction. A more global and public approach is required for better acceptance. Disasters certainly do not constrain themselves to regional boundaries.

Encouraging open standards

Given the nature of the domain, open standards are encouraged. This is for a multitude of reasons, not least the fact that the domain is represented heavily by NGOs and voluntary groups that would otherwise not be able to benefit from the divide resulting from royalty based proprietary standards. Such a divide would also defy the goal of providing a holistic disaster coordination effort and reduce the efficiencies of disaster response. For a standard to be considered open, three levels of openness are encouraged:

  1. Open access - The standard has to be free to obtain and apply in any system for any purpose and free of royalties.
  2. Open participation - The cycle of standard development and improvement must be open to public consumption and criticism.
  3. Open implementation - Especially if the standard is expensive to implement, there should exist a open sorce implementation to reduce the barrier to the adoption of such a standard.

The use of free and open source is increasingly encouraging in this domain as that promotes the development of open standards and free and modifiable libraries that implement such standards. This also has the added benefit of helping to rapidly spread the integration of the standard into systems and thus quickly help the pervasive adoption of the interoperability standard.

W3C's role in EM standards

The W3C has traditionally been working on core Web protocols and browser languages, and its membership has been represented by a diverse mix of academia, commerce, non-profits and government institutions. Emergency information interoperability standards are evaluated and implemented by a diverse mix of state based groups, academia, commercial vendors and NGOs; and thus W3C's diverse membership is an appropriate fit for the development of standards. Additionally, emergency standards should be open; W3C's royalty free policy, reputation and the open community participation mechanisms (as used in the EIIF XG) can greatly encourage the development of such open standards.

Recommendations

Much work remains to help realise the goals of the EIIF XG, as the scope of effort is quite large. The incubator group identified an effective approach to address the goals incrementally, by defining smaller sub-problems through a use case based approach. However many other use cases remain to be analysed in the domain. We need to engage more participation by the NGOs and professional bodies. To that effect we are recommending the following for any subsequent group:

  1. Standards development - Development of royalty free interoperability standards in areas of identified gaps
  2. Partnerships with professional communities - ISCRAM is already one forum where standards is a recurrent session in collaboration with the W3C efforts; however we would like to include other forums such as IAEM (International Association of Emergency Managers) and NetHope (consortium of NGOs). MoU can be signed with each of these groups to encourage participation.
  3. Interoperability workshops - Targeted to technology solution providers to facilitate standards implementation
  4. Sponsorship by jurisdiction-based groups
  5. Web 2.0 based community participation - Encourage more public and accessible participation

Informal queries about interest in participation has resulted in positive responses from two large technology providers (IBM, Google), three National EM / ICT agencies, two professional international communities, and more pending.

Proposed Scope of an EM Interest Group

In the pilot of the EIIF XG, certain benefits were identified:

  • The W3C reputation helped give more credibility to the activity.
  • The free participation on public mailing lists in our activity encouraged a wider group. This is especially a concern for participation by individuals from NGOs and academia that might not be able to pay membership dues.
  • Transparency of the Web 2.0 collaboration mechanisms ( IRC, Mailing lists, WIKI ) help spread the word to a wider group.
  • Certain sponsors joined on the condition that a royalty free policy be mandated (for this domain).

What the EIIF XG was not chartered to do was to work on much needed information standards. Thus it is proposed that the natural progression of the EIIF will maintain the above benefits, whilst also encourage the development of standards across the wider community.

With that in mind the following is being recommended:

  • The formation of an W3C Emergency Management Interest Group (EMIG) in partnership with an international professional community

The scope and activities of the W3C Emergency Management interest group (EMIG) would include:

  • Attract participation by key jurisdiction-based institutions, NGOs, academic forums, standards activities, and vendors in the emergency information domain
  • A process by which the EMIG would create evaluation task forces for the assessment of specific interoperability use cases in the domain
  • A process which subsequent to a use case evaluation would create interoperability task forces to address gaps in interoperability standards in the domain.
  • A series of Interest Group Notes outlining the findings, best practices, recommended vocabularies and ontologies.
  • A process to engage endorsements by the community for the outcomes of the EMIG
  • A secretariat to help with all EMIG coordination, secretarial and administrative tasks

The EMIG would form strong links to existing W3C groups:

  • W3C eGov Interest Group
  • W3C Semantic Web Interest Group

Conclusion

The W3C played an important role giving credibility to this activity and providing an open non-aligned environment for open participation and collaboration on the goals of the XG. A significant amount of work has been done in support of recognising the need for standardisation in this domain through this group and in an assessment of what it would take to bring about results. Valuable by-products have also resulted, such as the directory of emergency management systems that should prove a valuable reference for consumers of such systems in this domain. More work is certainly needed to advocate the results up the value chain to the respective end user organisations (NGOs, governments, professional and vendors); thus a proposal has been made for a way forward. We hope the the W3C and its members will continue to help provide a home for these most valuable efforts that will eventually result in efficiencies in the humanitarian response domain.

Acknowledgements

We would also like to recognise the following key individuals who supported this incubator group and most contributed directly to our end results. Thank you very much for time and contribution in support of the goals of the EIIF XG.

  • Mandana Sotoodeh, UBC, Canada
  • George Percivall, Open Geospatial Consortium, USA
  • Rebecca E. Curzon, IBM, USA
  • Hillman Mitchell, City of Tukwila, WA, USA
  • Paola Di Maio, Information Systems Analyst and Consultant, Thailand
  • Gary Berg-Cross, EM&I, USA
  • Megan Finn, UC Berkeley, USA
  • Colleen Apte, SAIC, USA
  • Bartel van de Walle, ISCRAM, Belgium
  • Paolo Palmero, UN, USA
  • Guido Vetere, IBM, Italy
  • Nigel Snoad, Microsoft, USA
  • Sanjva Weerawarana, WS02, Sri lanka
  • Gavin Treadgold, Kestrel Group, New Zealand
  • Carl Reed, OGC, USA
  • Olle Olsson, SICS, Sweden
  • Kristin Hoskin, Kestrel Group, New Zealand
  • Craig Hubley *
  • Renato Iannella, NICTA, Australia (Co-chair)
  • Chamindra de Silva, LSF/Virtusa, Sri Lanka (Co-chair)

We would also like to acknowledge and thank the following organisations who have sponsored and supported our efforts

  • W3C
  • NICTA
  • IBM
  • Google
  • SICS
  • ISCRAM and Community
  • LSF (Lanka Software Foundation)
  • Humanitarian-ICT and Sahana Community