Sharing Data For Public Safety
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 to respond. Their ability to react effectively is greatly diminished when this information is incorrect or not available.
When a citizen calls a 9-1-1 center requesting assistance, the emergency professional taking the call must first determine what is happening and where. It is from this information that the first responders are dispatched with the resources needed to handle the event.
The importance of sharing information in public safety is easily illustrated in the following example. A tanker truck carrying hazardous materials overturns on a bridge that spans a river between two jurisdictions. The truck’s container ruptures and the contents begin leaking into the river below, with vapors from the container creating 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 muster 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.
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 responsible to take action relies upon accurate and timely information.
In concept, the solution to exchanging real-time information among multiple agencies is simple: Information related to the incident would be entered into each of the agencies’ computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems if they were dispatching units to the event. The dispatch information would be simultaneously relayed via electronic messaging to all other responding and public safety agencies that have a need to know what is transpiring. The system would need an electronic connection between dispatch centers so that the availability of additional resources could be displayed and requested if needed. Additionally, information from multiple agencies’ CAD systems would be sent electronically to Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) where decision makers could deploy the proper resources.
Movies and television shows depict law enforcement with unlimited access to huge databases of information about criminals and criminal incidents that helps 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 contain 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 the description of the vehicle used by the suspect.
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 go unsolved.
New technology standards are currently being developed that will dramatically affect the way information is shared. There are several national efforts 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.
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), which provides 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 to detect relationships between incidents, people, places and things that are contained within records management databases.
Public safety and industry professionals are also 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), which facilitate electronic data transfers between agencies.
The newly created IEPDs will speed the transfer of information from alarm companies to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP), and allow for the transfer of calls for service between PSAPs. 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 among these systems.
So, how will the new technology standards affect public safety? Overall, the new standards will improve public safety by providing a cost-effective and consistent approach for sharing information across jurisdictions as well as among public and private sector organizations. In the future, information about incidents, persons, places, property and other data contained within one agency’s CAD and/or RMS will be electronically accessible from other agencies’ systems regardless of vendor, application or platform.
About the Author
Neil Kurlander has been an advocate for the use of technology by public safety agencies for over three decades. He is the vice president of public safety solutions for Asynchrony Solutions, a leading IT consulting and services firm. He can be reached at (314) 324-8622 or via email at [email protected]. For more information on this topic visit www.asolutions.com.