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OASIS approves new standards for emergency communications

They're aimed at helping proprietary systems work together better

By Todd R. Weiss
June 20, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) has approved new emergency data interoperability standards aimed at drastically improving critical data sharing among emergency first responders, government officials and law enforcement authorities.

In an announcement today, OASIS said the new Emergency Data Exchange Language Distribution Element (EDXL-DE) Version 1.0 has been approved as an OASIS Standard. That means it will now be used by emergency management systems vendors to help create data bridges among incompatible systems used by first responders and others.

The EDXL-DE standards were developed by the OASIS Emergency Management Technical Committee to aid emergency information sharing and data exchange across local, regional, tribal, national and international organizations in the public and private sectors, according to the Boston-based nonprofit group. OASIS is an international consortium that promotes the development and adoption of e-business standards.

The new standards will be incorporated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and emergency communications systems vendors, including ESI Acquisition Corp., Raining Data Corp. and Warning Systems Inc., to enhance data sharing among emergency officials in times of disasters, terrorism or other critical situations, according to the group.

The EDXL-DE standards are part of a larger emergency communications interoperability framework that includes the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), a text-based data-interchange format. CAP allows the collection and distribution of "all-hazard" safety notifications and emergency warnings across information networks and public alert systems used by first responders. The CAP standard was approved and released in 2004 by OASIS.

"There's an awful lot of data that has to be passed on these days, and often it's from software system to software system" that are incompatible, said Elysa Jones, chairwoman of the OASIS Emergency Management Technical Committee. Jones is also the engineering programming manager at emergency communications systems vendor Warning Systems Inc. in Osprey, Fla.

The new EDXL-DE standards will help fix those compatibility problems by allowing vendors to keep their proprietary formats while building in interoperability between systems that use EDXL-DE, she said.

Several key emergency communications systems vendors, including Emergency Services Integrators and Buffalo Computer Graphics Inc., were on the technical committee that devised the standards and will now incorporate them into their software, she said.

"It's exciting, and it specifies ways to do data interoperability, which is something that is so desperately needed in our emergency operations," Jones said. Presently, emergency workers often can't share large amounts of data with multiple agencies quickly, which then requires officials to communicate by telephone or radio, which drastically slows the process, she said.

The kind of data that can be instantly shared by large numbers of emergency workers and agencies includes details about specific disasters, equipment needs, personnel requirements, hazardous situations and other related information.

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