During last year's wildfires in Southern California, San Diego-area residents received diametrically opposed directives from public-safety officials who apparently were working with contrasting information about the blazes.

“The sheriff's folks were running around telling everybody to stay in their homes, [saying] ‘Everything's fine, the fire's under control,’” said Paul Wormeli, executive director of the IJIS Institute, a not-for-profit corporation consisting of industry members. “Meanwhile, the fire guys were saying, ‘Get the hell out of here because your house is about to go up in flames.’”

As it turned out, the fire personnel's assessment of the blaze was accurate. For some heeding the advice from the sheriff's department, staying in their homes proved fatal — a harsh reality that reminds Wormeli of the important role the IJIS Institute's data-standards work can play during an incident.

“Eleven people died because of the misinformation,” he said. “If the dispatch centers had all been connected and were able to share that information from the fire guys accurately to the sheriff's deputies — through the dispatch system and onto their mobile computers — you might have been able to save lives.

“The availability of information to make a more intelligent response is what's crucial here. And it has to be in a timely fashion — you can't wait for telephone calls or faxes to take action in a real emergency here. The only way first responders are going to be informed is if the computers talk to each other.”

It's a notion that has driven the IJIS Institute to help develop information-sharing standards based on the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) used for the exchange of information within the justice and public-safety communities.

Key advances made during the last year include the establishment of Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD) technical specifications that were developed in cooperation with the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA).

Completion of the IEPD specifications, which define the method for exchanging data between disparate computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and police records management systems (RMS) was announced in conjunction with the annual APCO conference in August. Since then, both APCO and the Law Enforcement Information Technology Standards Council (LEITSC) have endorsed them, and agencies already are citing IEPD specifications in RFPs, Wormeli said.

“The practitioners have to drive this. Industry can propose, but practitioners have to dispose,” he said. “We probably can get the companies to agree faster than we can get the practitioners to endorse.”

The IEPD specifications help resolve a long-standing problem in the public-safety community: how to make valuable information that resides in the largely proprietary CAD and RMS systems of various police agencies accessible and transferable to others in the public-safety community.

“[Without a standard], there is no way for most of the proprietary CAD systems to communicate with each other,” said Charles Werner, fire chief for the city of Charlottesville, Va.

As more agencies embrace the IEPD specifications, such communications can become commonplace, Wormeli said. As a result, information can be shared between jurisdictions quickly, he said. “It just solves tons of problems about how systems can communicate with each other,” Wormeli said. “We can really and truly automate information sharing, regardless of what system you have or I have — our computers can talk to each other and share data.

“Police are going to be able to respond much faster and with much more information to make a more intelligent response to immediate threats.”

For the almost 200 companies participating in the IJIS process, the creation of data-exchange standards provides an opportunity to enhance the functionality of their CAD and RMS products with no cost increase. While grant funding has supported recent IJIS standards work, several member companies have expressed an interest in continuing to pursue specifications even if grant monies are not available.

The reason is that it's much cheaper for vendors to provide information sharing via standard interfaces than having to spend time and money developing customized interfaces between proprietary systems, which are commonly referenced in the industry as “one-off” solutions.

It's an expensive proposition for a vendor, and the cost typically is passed on to the customer, Wormeli said. In some cases, the cost of developing such customized interfaces can represent 33% to 50% of the expense associated with the entire CAD/RMS package, he said.

“It really helps enormously to reduce the risk and the cost of handling all these one-off things, if we can develop standards,” Wormeli said. “Companies are real happy to go to a customer and say, ‘We've got a GJXDM-conformant interface for this or that. You can have that for free; if you want anything [customized], we'll start talking at $100,000 a whack.’”

Kirke Curtis, CEO of Pamet Systems — a CAD/RMS company — echoed that opinion. “Every time you have to do one of those one-off interfaces, it's a project that has limited usefulness,” Curtis said. “You have to charge for those, or you'll never recover your cost. When we have a standard … we can do it fairly simply.”

In addition to realizing these savings, standardized interfaces ultimately should let CAD and RMS companies dedicate more of their programmers to developing features that enhance their products instead of assigning them to develop one-off solutions, Curtis said.

“Every software company has more projects it wants to do than software programming resources,” he said. “If I don't have to spend all this time on these one-off systems that don't help me strategically that much, then I can spend more time on the bigger projects that help a much larger number of my clients. I would view that as a win for all the members.”

But the biggest winner should be public safety, as it becomes increasingly apparent that data sharing will let first responders perform their jobs better and more efficiently. One such effort is the Ohio Local Law Enforcement Information Sharing Network (OLLEISN), a data-repository project headed by the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP).

By using GJXDM specifications, information from local Ohio agencies' CAD and RMS systems are uploaded regularly to the statewide database that can be queried by law-enforcement officials. Driven by local agencies instead of being mandated at the state level, 86% of the agencies in Ohio are expected to be sharing their information by March, said Ted Oakley, OACP's program manager.

“What it's helping is multi-jurisdictional investigations in a way that wasn't possible before,” he said. “It's been particularly helpful to our smaller agencies, who just had no source of information at all before. Now they're able to really go back and solve some cases and serve some warrants … because they can find people.”

Oakley said IJIS Institute officials served as a “sanity check” throughout the project.

One reason the OLLEISN was successful was the fact that there was enough grant funding available to compensate the various vendors at a “reasonable rate” for investing resources to meet the data-sharing specifications, Curtis said.

“If I have six things that I can put my engineers on at any given time, I have to prioritize that somehow,” he said. “If I have five paid projects and one project that isn't paid, guess what? It's just a reality. No one's trying to get rich on this stuff, but you've got to make some responsible decisions.”

Securing funds for such projects and additional standards development is “definitely an obstacle” to progress in the data-sharing arena, Wormeli said. However, with a standards procedure in place and adequate funding, it's possible that the majority of CAD systems in the U.S. will be able to share data within 10 years, he said.

And there is a lot of work yet to be done. More information exchanges must be established — most notably, one that links RMS solutions to the automated fingerprint information system — and the current police data-sharing standards must be extended to serve fire, EMS and other law-enforcement entities, Wormeli said.

But these issues likely will not be nearly as difficult to address as questions regarding appropriate methods for disparate agencies to share information while adhering to privacy laws, he said.

“[Policy questions are] absolutely the biggest challenge, especially across state lines — the technology part is the simplest part,” he said.

THE PROMISE OF IEPD

FLOW CHART WITHOUT IEPD

  1. PSAP 1 receives 911 call

  2. PSAP 1 call taker gathers information and types data into home CAD system.

  3. PSAP 1 dispatcher recognizes that two other adjacent PSAPs with different CAD systems should be aware of situation.

  4. PSAP 1 dispatcher calls PSAP 2.

  5. PSAP 1 dispatcher explains the incident, and the PSAP 2 call taker types the data into the PSAP 2 CAD system.

  6. PSAP 1 dispatcher calls PSAP 3.

  7. PSAP 1 dispatcher explains the incident, and the PSAP 3 call taker types the data into the PSAP 3 CAD system.

  8. All three PSAPs dispatch officers to the scene.

POTENTIAL FLOW CHART WITH IEPD

  1. PSAP 1 receives 911 call.

  2. PSAP 1 call taker gathers information about the incident and types data into home CAD system.

  3. PSAP 1 dispatcher recognizes that two other adjacent PSAPs with different CAD systems should be aware of situation.

  4. PSAP 1 dispatcher forwards incident information to the CAD systems of PSAP 2 and PSAP 3, saving data-entry time and reducing the possibility of inaccuracies. The situation will determine whether an accompanying call is warranted.

  5. All three PSAPs dispatch officers to the scene.