Tech Standards and Public Safety Dichotomy
Whether the incident is an automobile crash, a fire, a natural event or a criminal act, public safety agencies are dependent upon timely and accurate information. Their ability to react effectively is greatly diminished when this information is incorrect or unavailable. The public’s safety is dependent upon the ability of emergency services to have accurate and timely information.
ACCURATE INFORMATION IS PERTINENTWhen a citizen calls a 911 center requesting assistance, the emergency professional taking the call must first determine what is happening and where. It is from this information that first responders are dispatched with the resources needed to handle the event. To illustrate the importance of sharing information in public safety, consider the following scenario: A tanker truck carrying hazardous materials jackknifes on a bridge that spans a river between two jurisdictions. The truck’s container ruptures and the contents begin leaking into the river below. Vapors from the container create a plume of potentially toxic particles that slowly spread downwind toward nearby businesses and residences. The contaminated water flows downstream toward another community’s water intake system.
Many different government and private sector agencies would need information about this incident to fulfill their responsibilities. In addition to first responders, government agencies at the local, state and federal levels with responsibilities related to this type of event would need to receive information about the incident so that they could assemble their resources as part of the response and recovery effort. Likewise, private-sector entities such as the water company and hazardous materials response companies would need to be informed so that they could take action to protect the water supply. Elected officials and the media would be seeking up-to-the minute information about the incident to protect and inform the public of the possible danger. The number of agencies affected grows quickly, if the roadway is a major interstate in an urban setting, if the jurisdictions are in two adjoining states, or if the crash also involves injuries.
Today, such a scenario could easily overwhelm the capabilities of many agencies to communicate and coordinate the response to this event. Each public safety, private sector and regulatory agency with the responsibility to take action relies upon accurate and timely information about what is happening at the scene and adjacent areas. In order for the responding agencies to deploy the correct personnel and resources, information about the incident must be quickly and accurately dispersed. Whether the event is a hazardous materials incident as depicted above, a hurricane or a terrorist attack, immediately obtaining the correct information is critical for responding agencies.
DISASTER WRANGLINGCommand and control of an incident requires continual status reports from the field, the acquisition and deployment of assets and communication between mission components. Conceptually, the solution to exchanging real-time information to multiple agencies about what is happening at an incident scene is really rather simple. Information related to the incident would be entered into each of the agencies’ computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems that are dispatching units to the event. The dispatch information would be simultaneously relayed via electronic messaging to all others responding as well as to public safety agencies who need to know what is transpiring. Such a system would include an electronic connection between dispatch centers so that the availability of additional resources could be displayed and requested if needed.
Deployment of units would be displayed at each dispatch center allowing each agency to track their personnel and equipment. Information from multiple agencies’ CAD systems would be sent electronically to Emergency Operations Centers where decision makers could deploy the correct resources where and when necessary. Homeland Security agencies would be kept informed of the scope of the incident and analyze incoming information to determine if the event is an isolated incident or perhaps is one of a series of incidents that may require a state or national response
NO SUPER DATABASEInvestigation is more then a Google search, and preventing criminal acts and solving crimes requires information sharing. Every person who has ever been given the mission of solving a crime has been tasked with answering the five “Ws”: Who, What, When, Where and Why. The general public has been led to believe from movies and television shows that law enforcement has unlimited assess to huge databases of information about criminals and criminal incidents that assist them in locating a suspect or a wanted vehicle.
To some extent, this perception is true. Law enforcement has access to national databases like the National Crime Information Center and the Interstate Identification Index that contains information about persons who have been arrested. But in many cases, the only information about a wanted suspect may be a physical description, a nickname, a tattoo or a description of the vehicle used by the suspect. Frequently, the investigator starts the investigation with only a crime scene. In many of these cases, the solution to the crime may depend upon linking evidence and descriptions related to other similar crimes.
While there are local, state and regional systems that are sharing crime data, there is no integrated national database that contains information about suspects or incidents. This type of information is routinely captured by law enforcement officers during the reporting and investigation of crimes, and is for the most part, only entered into local law enforcement databases. Without the ability to link similar incidents, evidence and descriptions, many crimes remain unsolved, and criminals who would otherwise be arrested and incarcerated continue to commit additional crimes that could have been prevented.
A NEW TECH HORIZONNew technology standards are currently being developed, which will dramatically affect the way information is shared. Several national efforts are underway to establish technical standards for the sharing of information between government agencies of all types. The GLOBAL Information Sharing Initiative is an umbrella organization that provides coordination of many of the projects working independently but sharing a common goal and vision of improving information sharing in the justice domain. The work of GLOBAL has resulted in the development of the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM), which provides a data dictionary and reference model in the form of XML schema. XML is a computer language for documents containing structured information such as words and pictures. An XML plan provides a means for defining the structure, content and to some extent, the semantics of XML documents. That said, the GLOBAL model offers a framework that can be adapted and/or extended by federal, state, local, tribal jurisdictions to support information sharing between justice agencies.
GLOBAL is in the process of assembling the various components of a Justice Reference Architecture (JRA). Using a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) framework for the development of information sharing systems, the JRA will consist of four pieces: standards (such as the Global JXDM for content), services, policies and registries.
GJXDM has been endorsed throughout the justice community and is one component of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). NIEM will provide new rules and standards that will be used to standardize the process of electronic data exchanges between multiple public and private domains.
N-DEX, the first national system for linking law enforcement databases is now being developed. The Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx) is an initiative by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to create a national system that will allow participating law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to detect relationships between incidents, people, places and things that are contained within LEAs’ records management databases. N-DEx will leverage GJXDM data exchanges that have been developed for querying record management systems. While it will be several years before this system can be fully deployed, it offers, for the first time, a way for an investigator to access the type of information that is often critical to solving and preventing crimes on a national level.
CURRENT MEASURES TAKENAt this time, public safety and industry professionals are working together to develop technology standards to promote interoperability. The Law Enforcement Information Technology Standards Council (LEITSC), The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO), The Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) and the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute (IJIS) recently participated in a collaborative effort funded by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance to create new Information Exchange Package Documentations (IEPDs). IEPDS facilitate electronic data transfers between agencies.
One of the major benefits of standardized IEPDs is that they can be reused for building exchanges between applications. Reuse reduces the cost of creating new interfaces and the time required to build them. The newly created IEPDs will speed the transfer of information from alarm companies to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP). It will allow for the transfer of calls for service between PSAPs. It will allow one agency to electronically poll others to determine the availability of resources and to request those resources when needed.
New IEPDs will also allow for querying multiple Record Management Systems for information about people, places, objects or incidents and offenses. Developing IEPDs for these systems is an important component of the information sharing process between these systems.
So, how will the new technology standards affect public safety?