Inside Analysis

Open Government Data Act – Emergency Data Exchange Language (OGDA – EDXL)

By Rex
Brooks and Russell Ruggiero

Introduction

The Open Public Electronic
and Necessary (OPEN) Government Data Act (OGDA) was officially signed into law
on January 14, 2019. The OPEN
Government Data Act builds on President Obama’s May 2013 Open Data Policy (M13-13) and is included as Title II in Speaker Paul Ryan’s Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking
(FEBP) Act 
(H.R. 4174)[i] (aka the “Evidence Act.”).

The primary
focus of this new initiative is for Federal Agencies to publish all of their
information as open data (using standardized, non-proprietary formats). The
main objective of this short piece is to provide an overview of Emergency Data
Exchange Language (EDXL) and
explain its various benefits relating to the Open Government Data Act. If
properly implemented the combination of OGDA and EDXL could promote greater
transparency, improved efficiency of day-to-day operations, along with a more cohesive response to manmade
(e.g., terrorist attacks, oil spills, etc.) and natural (e.g., hurricanes,
fires, earthquakes, etc.) catastrophic events. The sheer number and magnitude of
recent catastrophic events substantiates using standardized non-proprietary
formats as a priority in the implementation of the Open Government Data Act. One
may ask then, how will relevant open-standards such as EDXL be incorporated
into the mix?

As noted in the conclusion of the section of this
report that focuses on the devil in the details, in the case of EDXL, at least,
existing SAFECOM Grant Guidance for Emergency Communications specifies EDXL as
a recommended open and non-proprietary standard.

EDXL has been continuously developed
since 2002 in the
Organization for
the Advancement of Structured Information Standards
(OASIS). It is a suite of
free, internationally available, open and non-proprietary standards and
specifications. These standards and specifications are designed to enable
information exchange throughout all phases of the emergency lifecycle:
preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. EDXL makes it possible to
share accurate, relevant and useful information among emergency response and
management service providers.

OASIS is an
international not-for-profit consortium that drives the development, conversion
and adoption of open standards. OASIS work is organized into technical
committees. The Emergency Management Technical Committee is (EMTC) is dedicated
to the development and ongoing maintenance of the entire EDXL suite of
standards and specifications.  

OGDA Challenges: Implementation Guidance

How will each agency implement OGDA? The Act
itself requires an agency by agency implementation through mandated non-political
Chief Data Officers (CDOs), though there are  implementation resources available from
previous open data efforts in Project Open Data.[ii]
The Evidence Act requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office
of Government Information Services (OGIS) and the General Services
Administration (GSA) to develop and maintain an online repository of tools,
best practices and schema standards to facilitate the adoption of open data
practices across the Federal ecosystem. When the new OGDA repository is
launched, it will then replace and retire the Open Data Project.

OGDA Challenges: How Will the Data be made Available?

The Devil in the Details

The
OPEN Government Data Act sets an official presumption that “Government data
assets made available by an agency shall be published as machine-readable
data…in an open format, and…under open licenses.”

The
OPEN Government Data Act also requires agencies to maintain, and publish, a
comprehensive data inventory of all data assets. The data inventory will help
agencies and open data advocates identify key government information resources
and transform them from documents and siloed databases into open data.

There are a number of existing programs that make their work products
available as data, such as the National Weather Service (NWS) of the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). Among the work products offered are
Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) Alerts  for familiar meteorological events, such as
hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding as well as
relatively raw data from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites
– R Series (GOES-R) Program. In addition NOAA has been working steadily since 2014
with major infrastructure-as-a-service (IAAS) providers like Amazon Web
Services, IBM and Microsoft to increase the no-cost availability of NOAA’s data
resources through its Big Data Project[iii] This includes the Filtered Alert Hub[iv], which aggregates CAP alert
messages

From FedManager.com:

Ted Kaouk,
CDO at the Department of Agriculture, explains
, “The original impetus was really about open data, and the
value to the public, sharing across agencies. I think that’s proven to be very
important … but I think the shift now is, from our Secretary’s perspective,
creating a data-driven organization.”

In the Air Force,
CDO Eileen Vidrine has begun implementing the VAULT model, standing for
visible, accessible, understanding, linking and trustworthy data.

Kaouk and Vidrine
both affirmed to government IT blog MERItalk that the critical part of this project
will be engaging undersecretaries and leading a cultural change toward a “data
driven mindset.”[v]

It is still very early in
the process of putting open government data into practical applications., However,
it is crucial to the healthy development of agency policy to implement this
strategically significant legislation, and  that we, the public, stay connected and
focused on this effort moving forward. It is also incumbent upon us to see that
we take measures to ensure that our personal, individual data, including our
private medical historical records data, legal records data and individual
online behavioral records data and all other incidental personal data come
under our conscious, legal control.

To see this concern in
current practice, one need look no further than the recent enactment of the
European data privacy law,  the General Data Protection Regulation (EU)
2016/679 (“GDPR”), a regulation in European Union (EU) law on dataprotection
and privacy for all
individuals within the EU and the European Economic
Area (EEA), which also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA areas.

It is important in this discussion that we also
recognize and look closer at NIEM, which is an information (data) sharing
effort specific to the United States.

NIEM—the National Information Exchange Model—is a
community-driven, government-wide, standards-based approach to exchanging
information. NIEM may
sound complex, but the premise of it is simple: NIEM connects communities of people who share a common need
to exchange information in order to advance their mission.[vi]

NIEM is an XML-based information exchange framework from the United States. NIEM represents a collaborative partnership
of agencies and organizations across all levels of government (federal, state,
tribal, and local) and with private industry. The primary objective of this
partnership is to effectively and efficiently share critical information at key
decision points throughout the whole of the justicepublic safetyemergency and disaster,managementintelligence, and homeland
security
 enterprise.
NIEM is designed to develop, disseminate, and support enterprise-wide
information exchange standards and processes that will enable jurisdictions to automate information sharing.[vii]

The convergence of GDPR, the OPEN Government Data
Act and NIEM suits EDXL in many ways. As with the HIPAA legislation that
preceded these developments, the need to protect the individual privacy of
personal information (data) cannot be postponed any further. There are several
ways that adopting the EDXL suite of standards and specifications can enable
and support this effort. However, for the purpose of exploring how EDXL
specifically supports the OPEN Government Data Act, one can assume that OGDA,
EDXL, GDPR, HIPAA and NIEM will come into play in the effort to protect
individual data privacy, especially within the context of freely available
government data.

Specifically, EDXL provides a
set of standards and specifications for exchanging emergency information. The
extent to which this set of data models is already acknowledged in the
Emergency Management domain is evident in the fact that EDXL is specified in
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency
Communications Fiscal Year 2018
SAFECOM Guidance on Emergency Communications Grants
.[viii]
So, to a large extent, EDXL is pre-qualified for use with the OPEN Government
Data Act.

EDXL Overview

The EDXL suite of standards is designed
to work together so that individual specifications, in the form of controlled vocabularies
or terminologies defining domain-specific data models complement each other with
each focusing on a specific area of need. Through a practitioner-driven
process, the current EDXL standards include

  • The Common Alerting
    Protocol v1.2 specification (EDXL-CAP), with various dedicated profiles
  • The Distribution Element specification v2.0 (EDXL-DE)
  • The Hospital AVailability Exchange specification v1.0
    (EDXL-HAVE)
  • The Tracking of Emergency Patients specification v1.1
    (EDXL-TEP)
  • The Resource Messaging specification v1.0 (EDXL-RM)
  • The Situation Reporting specification v1.0 (EDXL-SitRep)
  • The Tracking of Emergency Clients v1.0 (EDXL-TEC)

All of the documentation for these standards can be found at http://docs.oasis-open.org/emergency/ 

EDXL-CAP: The Beginning

The events of 9/11/2001 were not the sole reason the
work of the OASIS Emergency Management Technical Committee ( EM TC) was
started, but it did serve as a catalyst in bringing attention to the topic of
improving Emergency Response.

What the events of 9/11 showed was the vital need to
improve communication between responders to share information that fulfills the
need for interoperability.

Interoperability is the term used to indicate that
information held in common between agencies or entities can be operated on or
used within each system’s particular software. This interoperability of
information, or data, needs to extend across diverse emergency management
systems and across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries.

The work that evolved into EDXL began when the
Partnership for Public Warning (PPW) brought their work on a Common Alerting
Protocol (CAP) into OASIS. CAP allows consistent alert and warning messages to
be sent out simultaneously over many different systems. This greatly increases
warning effectiveness while also simplifying the task of notification. CAP
addresses the challenges posed by the diversity of communication channels and
independently developed warning systems. It serves as a universal adapter for
alert messages, defining one message format with features that are essential
for the broad range of alert systems and sensor technologies. Although the term
“EDXL” is not included specifically in the title, CAP is a member of the EDXL
suite of standards. In OASIS, CAP was cast into an XML Schema-based IT
international Standard in version 1.0 in March 2004, and versioned to 1.1 a
little more than a year and a half later in October 2005 and adopted as
International Telecom Union (ITU) Recommendation X.1303, later versioned to ITU
Recommendation X.1303 bis.

CAP remained at this stage of development until
version 1.2 was approved by OASIS a little less than 5 years later in July
2010. The  international recognition of
CAP is evident in Canada and Australia having produced their own national
profiles of CAP, which is also profiled in the Integrated Public Alert and
Warning System (IPAWS) in the Department of Homeland Security – Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the United States.

EDXL-DE: The Distribution Element and
the EDXL Process

Following the work on CAP, the next standard
undertaken in the EDXL suite was the Distribution Element or EDXL-DE. Version
1.0 was approved as an OASIS Standard in June 2006. Version 2.0 was released as
a Committee Specification in September 2013. Both versions are supported,
though Version 1.0 has wider adoption. Further work on EDXL-DE Version
2.0 is in progress

EDXL-DE facilitates the
packaging of content and provides a standard set of elements in a header to
describe that content in order to facilitate message delivery. This standard assumes
and relies upon a message distribution framework for data sharing among
emergency information systems. The DE may be thought of as a container for
structured or unstructured data, like an envelope used for postal messages. It carries
formatted messages such as alerts or resource messages and helps facilitate
delivery using routing information. The DE is designed to package and deliver messages
based on the other standards and specifications in the EDXL suite or other data
payload messages. The EDXL-DE data model provides a standard format for identifying
senders and targeted recipients of the message, along with other metadata
pertaining to whom and under what circumstances the enveloped data is to be
sent and received..

Unlike CAP, which was brought into the OASIS
Technical Committee Process, EDXL-DE was the first standard taken on through
the developing EDXL Process, a practitioner-driven process sponsored by DHS
Science & Technology. The process produces requirements identified by
practitioners to solve a particular problem with data exchanges. Stakeholder working
groups identify real-world scenarios to analyze and draft these requirements.
These are then vetted through the vendor community including the Emergency
Interoperability Consortium or EIC. After review, a draft specification based
on the requirements is submitted to the Emergency Management Technical
Committee where work is undertaken to develop and publish a standard taking
into account international needs.

The OASIS process is open and comments are accepted
from any source during public review, subject to the OASIS Feedback License[ix] regardless of
membership in the organization. Once complete, these standards are
internationally recognized and available at no cost for implementation. However,
the process does not end here. Through ongoing outreach and feedback from
implementers, standards can be revised through a formal technical committee process
to better support the stakeholder community.  Please Note: The relevant technical material
contained in this document has been reviewed by members of the OASIS Emergency
Management Technical Committee.

EDXL-RM and EDXL-HAVE: EDXL Process
Matures

Next in our in our series of emergency
communications standards came EDXL Resource Messaging (EDXL-RM), one of the
more challenging specifications tackled by the EM TC. And, as it happened, this
work was completed at the same time as EDXL –HAVE, the Hospital Availability
Exchange specification. Versions 1.0 of both these specifications were approved
in Nov. 2008.

EDXL-RM organizes emergency logistics information in
a standard XML vocabulary and contains sixteen separate pre-defined messages
covering the spectrum of logistics-related resource messaging- in the
request-response-report pattern. It also allows user-defined resource messages
using a standard set of terms and datatypes.

EDXL-HAVE allows
the communication of the status of a hospital, its services, and its resources.This includes bed capacity per department and availability of staff and
resources to support that capacity, emergency department status, available
services and the status of a hospital’s facility and operations. HAVE
allows emergency dispatchers and managers to make logistics decisions on where
to route victims to ensure the receiving hospital is prepared to admit them. EDXL-HAVE
was used by several companies and organizations in the response to the 2010
Haiti earthquake where much was learned. 

On January 19, 2019, EDXL-HAVE
Version 2.0 was published as a Committee Specification taking into account
lessons learned. It has become the first Joint Release of OASIS Open and Health
Level Seven International
(HL7).

The
convergence and overlap of the work on these two separate specifications
prompted the EM TC and its industry partners to refine the EDXL Process,
evolving into the mature process represented in the Figure 1.

Figure
1: The EDXL Process

EDXL-TEP and the Bi-Directional Transform to HL7 ADT

Although EDXL Tracking Emergency Patients (EDXL-TEP)
was developed later in the chronology of the EDXL suite, it is important to
include it here, following EDXL-HAVE in order to keep the EDXL Emergency
Healthcare standards and specifications together because they are closely
associated. It is in this context that we can highlight how the OASIS EMTC
began working closely with its sister Standards Development Organization (SDO),
HL7,leading up to two collaborative efforts between the two SDOs.

Where EDXL-HAVE provides a snapshot report of the
capabilities of hospital facilities in a given area, EDXL-TEP provides a
standard vocabulary for collecting emergency patient information (data) in the
field and transmitting it to emergency managers for tracking and to receiving
hospitals. This standard is designed for exchanging emergency patient or
tracking information during the patient encounter from admission to release.
EDXL-TEP supports emergency patient tracking across the emergency medical
service, EMS, and emergency care continuum, as well as hospital evacuations and
day-to-day patient transfers. EDXL-TEP provides real-time information to
emergency responders, emergency management, coordinating organizations, and
care facilities in the chain of care and transport.  

TEP 1.0 was released in January 2014 and
led directly to TEP 1.1 which was released as a Committee Specification in
2016.  TEP 1.1 includes Bi-directional Transformation of OASIS EDXL-TEP
(Tracking of Emergency Patients) v1.1 and HL7 v2.7.1 ADT (Admit – Discharge –
Transfer) Specification Version 1.0
– Committee Note 01 – 31 May 2016. It was also published as an HL7
Implementation Guide.

As noted in the previous section
EDXL-HAVE – Version 2.0 was jointly released in January 2019 by OASIS Open and
HL7 International.

EDXL-TEC: Tracking Emergency Clients

EDXL-TEC is a sister specification to
EDXL-TEP that incorporates Google’s People Finder Interchange Format (PFIF)
into EDXL-TEC Registry. Tracking of Emergency Clients (TEC) Client Registry
Exchange 1.0 was released as a Committee Specification in 2014.

EDXL-SitRep: EM Decision Support

From Field Report to Management Summary –

Returning to chronological order, after the first versions of EDXL-RM and
EDXL-HAVE were approved by OASIS in 2008, they were then followed by version
1.2 of CAP in 2010, when the EM TC subsequently launched EDXL-Situation
Reporting (EDXL-SitRep). The first Committee Specification for version 1.0 was
approved by the EM TC in Nov. 2012.  The latest release of
SitRep 1.0 as a Committee Specification came out in 2016.  See
http://docs.oasis-open.org/emergency/edxl-sitrep/v1.0/cs02/edxl-sitrep-v1.0-cs02.zip

The ability to gather accurate
information in time-critical circumstances is the chief requirement met by EDXL
SitRep. This specification supports reporting on incidents in a consistent
format so that data can be collected and provided to other systems or decision
makers. The end goal is to enable the exchange of clear well-defined
information to facilitate decision-making. The standard includes a set of
pre-configured reports. It incorporates the standard Incident Command System ()
forms.

While SitRep was under development, the
EM TC undertook the development of language components common to many of our
standards, specifications and profiles. This, in turn, led to the development
of three supporting specifications for terms used consistently throughout the
EDXL suite of standards and specifications.

EDXL-RIM: The EDXL Reference Information Model

The EDXL Reference Information Model
provides a high level, abstract information model that supports the entire
family of EDXL standards. It includes common components as well as governance
for usage and change.

RIM includes:

  • EDXL Common Types
    collects elements common to all EDXL specifications
  • EDXL CIQ (Contact
    Information) collects person/contact, organizational and geopolitical address
    information
  • EDXL GSF (Profile GML
    Simple Features) profiles a brief collection of geospatial reference
    information for specifying location information
  • UML Model of the EDXL
    Suite of Standards shows the overall inter-related structure of the EDXL suite.

Conclusion

Hurricanes Harvey,
Irma and Maria in 2017 and the California Fires of 2017 (then worst ever) and
2018 (new worst ever) are excellent case studies on how we respond to natural
events. They also helped to expose serious deficiencies. Questions on how do we
reduce redundancies and improve communication should be explored, along with
various technology efforts to improve information understanding such as recurrent
neural networks. Some  improvements are
currently available (open-standards) and some like AI are years away. No
matter, leveraging what is currently available, while building towards the
future seems to be both logical and prudent from an effort and cost
perspective. We live in an ever changing world and must adapt to both natural
and manmade events, so our responses need to be more effective and efficient. Therefore
we should view EDXL as an impactful open-standard that could help to reduce
loss of life, while minimizing injury and property damage.

[i] https://www.datacoalition.org/open-government-data-act/

[ii] https://project-open-data.cio.gov/implementation-guide/

[iii] https://www.noaa.gov/big-data-project

[iv] https://github.com/filtered-alert-hub/filtered-alert-hub/wiki

[v] https://www.fedmanager.com/featured/3265-open-government-data-act-means-changes-for-agency-leadership

[vi] https://it.ojp.gov/GIST/153/NIEM—The-National-Information-Exchange-Model

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Information_Exchange_Model

[viii] https://www.dhs.gov/safecom/blog/2018/05/16/release-fy-2018-safecom-guidance-emergency-communications-grants

[ix] https://www.oasis-open.org/policies-guidelines/ipr#appendixa

10 Responses to "Open Government Data Act – Emergency Data Exchange Language (OGDA – EDXL)"

  • Gannon (J) Dick
    May 4, 2019 - 10:51 am Reply

    First, Thanks for this, Rex & Russ. XML needed this – deterministic schema – what a concept !
    Second, OASIS, and EM needed it too. Since the specifications were written as a vision in 2003 the mission, values, and goals have been overshadowed by the promise of Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. As wonder provoking as these promises are, alternative routes set up the wrong experiments (randomized control trials or commercially driven race conditions). Is it any wonder that “digital remains” predominate in this research space ?
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2053951719842540

    Sadly, for EDXL-RIM, the Data Scientists and the Press insert these metrics into the narrative all too well. For example …
    Has it ever occurred to anyone that a personal assistant is both a spell checker tool and a pronunciation (Soundex Algorithm) tool ?
    Siri, What’s a Staten ? Alexa, how do I get to the Statin Island Ferry.
    How is this helpful ? Rather, ask an EMT or Cardiologist and trust them when they tell you it is not helpful.

    • Rex Brooks
      May 6, 2019 - 12:50 pm Reply

      Thanks for the comment Gannon. I have to admit that the concept of ‘digital remains’ and the need for curation of outdated records is a topic area I haven’t given much thought as yet. Then it occurred to me that I have a substantial collection of articles, presentations and other kinds of data that I might want to archive and that raises a lot of other issues. Taking on the task of curation is something I will have to give a lot more thought.

      Thanks again,
      Rex

  • Matthew Harang
    May 5, 2019 - 12:13 am Reply

    This is excellent work. The importance of efficiency and effectiveness of emergency communications cannot be overstated. As the world changes, we are unfortunately faced with new man-mad threats as well as natural disasters, which increase our need for clear standards and open communication between relevant teams. EDXL will no doubt play an important role in the future of transparency and emergency response. It is important to keep progressing toward the most suitable approaches in this field, and this is a much-needed step in the right direction.

    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      May 5, 2019 - 8:53 am Reply

      Matt, thank you for the kind words. A serious study because EM is a serious topic. How do we leverage technology to make for a more efficient response mechanism? Good question, and here is one that I have been hit with by many as of late. Why XML and not JSON? First, XML is more mature than JSON. Second, there are various tools that enable a person to pull information between both formats. Not to be forgotten, the Federal Government has a vast XML library, so it is logical to assume that both XML and JSON will supported for many years to come. Yes, progress. Thank you, Russ

    • Rex Brooks
      May 6, 2019 - 12:57 pm Reply

      Thanks Matthew,

      You are correct. We have a lot of work to do along the way to a hopefully slightly saner world. Accurate data that is readily available using well-crafted data standards is an important factor.

  • Jose Pierre
    May 6, 2019 - 9:44 am Reply

    Thanks Russ and Rex for sharing your viewpoint on this important topic.

    • Russell Ruggiero
      Russell Ruggiero
      May 20, 2019 - 3:30 pm Reply

      Jose, most welcome. You fully understand the seriousness of natural events such as hurricanes and floods. It is cause for concern because these types of events seem to be happening more frequently. As one who understands technology, EDXL represents a dynamic shift in EM response. It also makes sense to build to open standards, so new efforts adhere to the new Open Government Data Act. Regrading open standards, OASIS is doing wonderful work in this area and must be commended. Best wishes, Russ

  • Ranjeeth Thunga
    May 8, 2019 - 11:37 am Reply

    This piece describing the state of OGDA, and the work done for EDXL over the last 15+ years, serves both as bedrock reference for EM standards as well as inspiration for other open-data, open-standards efforts within the government and private sector.

    It serves an example of how we can come together over a sustained period of time and jointly advance the standards and methodologies used for the sharing of information among various stakeholders in a modular, graduated fashion.

    Appreciate this article available for all our benefit!

    • Rex Brooks
      May 8, 2019 - 12:25 pm Reply

      Thanks for kind words, Ranjeeth,

      There’s a lot to be said for sheer perseverence, and we’re still working away at it in all our collective efforts. This time looks ripe to develop ways and means for individuals to obtain, maintain and retain control over personal data, much as our work in humanmarkup all those years ago once envisioned.

  • Jeff Waters
    June 4, 2019 - 10:05 am Reply

    Thanks Rex and Russ! I couldn’t agree more. EDXL and the Open Government Data Act together can go a long way toward helping all of us prepare for the next emergency. I know you are working on an Emergency Management Framework to assist developers in using the standards. I think that could be of great assistance. Thanks for the excellent work!

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