Interoperability and Ontology in Disaster Management-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, May 9, 2011

Interoperability and Ontology in Disaster Management

Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley’s (CMUSV) Disaster Management Initiative (DMI) is giving attention to research and development of system interoperability. Interoperability and standards are critically needed for collaboration and clear information exchange between organizations involved in disaster management. When multiple emergency response agencies collaborate in response to an emergency, particularly large scale disasters, they are currently limited by their separate systems to collect, share, and disseminate information. Technology development in interoperability and standards will replace white-board disaster management with a digital Common Operating Picture (COP), accessible to all agencies responding to a disaster, revolutionizing collaboration and response efforts.

Dr. Steven Ray, Associate Director of the DMI and Distinguished Research Fellow at CMUSV, brings over 20 years of experience in the field of interoperability and ontology, the rigorous descriptions of information that enable interoperability. Before joining the staff at CMUSV, Dr. Ray initiated and led technical R&D projects with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). For the last six years he has co-chaired an Ontology Summit. He is now applying that expertise to disaster management, coordinating and overseeing research in ontology and interoperability.

“Interoperability research involves three aspects,” said Dr. Ray, “standards development, implementing systems using those standards, and testing the interoperability of the systems developed.”

Current DMI members around the country are working on development of standards that enable the sharing of emergency information. One area of research deals with 911 dispatch calls, which are usually processed on systems independent to each jurisdiction, limiting information sharing and analysis. If a computer has a way to collect and label data, such as 911 dispatch calls, and place the data on a map, that map can enable first responders and incident command centers to gain rapid situational awareness through a COP, especially critical in catastrophic emergencies.

“DMI member Art Botterell was the architect and editor of the now-popular Common Alerting Protocol (CAP),” notes Dr. Ray, “which is a standard for representing dispatch calls and encoding them in a way that computers can share them.” CAP has since been adopted as an OASIS standard (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), the first in a family of standards known as EDXL (Emergency Data Exchange Language), a set of standards that facilitates the exchange of emergency information between agencies. Another DMI member, Rex Brooks, serves in several leadership roles within OASIS developing additional components of EDXL for messaging and notification, resource management, hospital availability, and dispatch. Dr. Ray and DMI teams are working to incorporate standards such as EDXL and CAP to create systems specifically related to emergencies that can receive information, reason about it, and provide interpreted knowledge in a variety of forms, such as with 911 dispatch calls.

Another activity involves the creation of an Open Floor Plan Exchange standard (OFPX) and a supporting Open Floor Plan Display system (OFPD). This lightweight exchange format will allow first responders to quickly download the floor plan of a destination facility while traveling to an incident, of a fire for example, so that they are informed about the layout and the location before arriving on the scene. Hand-in-hand with this work is another project to provide high-resolution location tracking data of firefighters inside a building, where traditional GPS signals cannot penetrate.

DMI partners and researchers are making strides in building such Next-Generation COP tools and technology as they advance implementation of ontology standards. The DMI at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley collaborates with a wide cross-section of leaders from public and private sectors to meet the goals of bringing 21st century response capabilities to disaster management and response, both in Silicon Valley and world-wide. The DMI fosters public and private partnerships to grow this important initiative. With the DMI providing a platform for thought leaders on disaster management and response, its influence will extend to policy setting, in addition to researching and developing technical solutions for disaster-related problems.