There is a growing call for the use of open source content standards for all-hazards, all-media alert and notification systems. Content standards such as Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) and others promise to improve the interoperatiblity of hazard information systems at both the internetworking and last-mile stages of distribution. Despite the promise that these standards hold for improved disaster management, there is limited understanding of specific implementation issues and challenges associated with the use of content standards for last-mile alert and notification system. This is especially the case in developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, where community-based hazard information systems are being introduced to complement and extend the functionality of national and regional systems.
The Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science report on “New Disaster Warning Standards” provide the true features of CAP. However, fails to realize that the CAP standard was developed in the English Speaking Countries and has only been tested in those developed countries. The standard does give provision to issue warnings in multiple languages by creating a new “info” section for each language; where the info section is a subelement of the CAP Message. CAP still requires testing over a multiple array of ICT devices that can be used in a last-mile with language localized alerting applications before it is concluded as a “universal standard”.
CAP is being deployed as part of the HazInfo project, which has established last-mile networking capability for 32 tsunami-affected Sarvodaya embeded villages in Sri Lanka in order to study the suitability of various Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) for a standards-based community hazard information system. A major component of the HazInfo Project is the use of the Common Alerting Protocol to enable data interchange between the Hazard Information Hub (HIH) and a range of end-user technologies. CAP is a simple, flexible data interchange format designed for collecting and distributing “all-hazard” safety notifications and emergency warnings over information networks and public alerting systems.
“Evaluating Last-Mile Hazard Information Dissemination: A Research Project”, also referred to as the “HazInfo Project” was launched in December 2005 and is being tested in the Sarvodaya embedded Coastal Districts of Sri Lanka. The research project is funded by the International Development Research Center of Canada (IDRC). The research findings from the simulated tests and exercises of the 5ICTs and Processes will provide a guide to implementing an early warning system for the next 1000 Grama Swaraja villages.
CAP as a content standard is deliberately designed to be transport-neutral. In web-services applications, CAP provides a lightweight standard for exchanging urgent notifications. CAP can also be used in data-broadcast applications and over legacy data networks. CAP provides compatibility with all kinds of information and public alerting systems, including those designed for multilingual and special-needs populations. Further, CAP incorporates geospatial elements to permit flexible but precise geographic targeting of alerts. CAP also provides for associating digital images and other binary information with alerts and supports various mechanisms for ensuring message authenticity, integrity and confidentiality where required.
CAP was integrated into the project because of the following perceived benefits and advantages:
- Since it is an open source, XML-based protocol with clearly defined elements, CAP should be capable of supporting data interchange across multiple dissemination channels.
- With CAP, one input at the central information hub can be translated into multiple outputs for downstream alerting.
- CAP provides a standardized template for submitting observations to the central hub (upstream) and thereby supports situational awareness to improve overall management of a critical incident.
- A CAP-enabled system will more easily integrate with other national and international information systems.
Results to date suggest that the basic internetworking arrangement at lower technical layers has proven to be reasonably robust and reliable but that a key challenge remains in the upper layers of application software and content provision. This is evident in the apparent difficulties faced when implementing CAP messaging over multiple last-mile systems that include commercial satellite and terrestrial network technologies .
Lessons learned from silent-tests and live-exercises points to several key bottlenecks in the system where the integrity of CAP messages is compromised due to problems associated with software interoperability or direct human intervention. The wider implication of this finding is that content standards by themselves are not sufficient to support appropriate and timely emergency response activities. Those working with content standards for hazard information systems must consider closely the interoperability issues at various layers of interconnectivity.
Designers: Botrel et al of CAP have given the message recipients full autonomy to take action based on the information they receive. It is expected that the community has an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that is executed on the basis of the content in the CAP message. Therefore, it is important to avoid ambiguity in the alerts; example: if the message indicates that the particular community is absolutely at no threat then the community ERP will be to record/acknowledge message only and do not relay any further (i.e. terminate event).
Global Organizations such as United States Geological Survey (USGS) that issue CAP messages, to this day, use the OASIS CAP version 1.0 and not version 1.1, which was released by OASIS in October 2005. HazInfo Project has been testing with the latest version 1.1 and has difficulty automatically importing the USGS Messages in to the CAP readers used in the project because of the mismatch in the Document Object Model (DOM).