Agencies move to fine-tune emergency XML

A group of emergency management agencies and IT industry representatives, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, are moving to refine their Extensible Markup Language protocol for emergency public warnings.

The Common Alerting Protocol is a standard message format for emergency alerts and notifications. It is interoperable with many types of messaging software, making it easier to send a single message to a variety of recipients quickly.

The Emergency Interoperability Consortium, composed of government and industry emergency management groups as well as FEMA, wrote the protocol in 2003. It was adopted in 2004 by the Organization for Advancement of Structured Information Standards (Oasis), a standards-setting industry group. It is being implemented by numerous federal, state and local disaster management agencies.

The alerting protocol now has been updated to Version 1.1, and IT companies that support homeland security and public warning systems are invited to submit comments by July 15.

In announcing the first revision to the Common Alerting Protocol, Oasis said in a news release that "several important changes have been made as a result of real-world implementation by participating groups."

The changes include a new box to recommend specific lifesaving measures to be taken for the event being reported and an added capability to include a Web page within the notification message in cases in which retrieving the Web page from the Internet is not practical, Oasis said.

In related developments, FEMA in January signed a memorandum of understanding with the consortium to develop additional Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL), a suite of XML standards that covers a broad variety of communications needs for emergency managers. The common alerting protocol is viewed as a component of EDXL.

Additional priorities for EDXL include formats for identifying and requesting disaster resources, including personnel, vehicles, food and supplies, and for geographic information to identify, track and forecast events or resources.

EDXL will include open standards for terminology, messaging formats and technical interfacing formats to create common data-sharing environments for disaster managers that are compliant with the National Incident Management System.

In addition to FEMA's initiatives, the Homeland Security Department is sponsoring a separate initiative, the National Information Exchange Model, based on the Global Justice XML data standards developed by the Justice Department with state and local law enforcement agencies.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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