US Department of Homeland Security: "CAP Keeps Nation Steps Ahead of Disaster"

The following article was reproduced from the Winter 2008 edition of Interoperability Technology Today, published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Command, Control and Interoperability Division.

CAP Keeps Nation Steps Ahead of Disaster

In May 2007, the FCC took significant steps toward improving the EAS by issuing a Second Report and Order (Order) aimed at bringing the alert system into the digital age.

"We need an Emergency Alert system that is more flexible, more robust, and more compatible with the technologies that Americans are adopting in their everyday lives," says FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps. "In other words, EAS needs to move into the digital age."

The Order requires common carriers providing video service to participate in the EAS as broadcasters and cable and satellite providers already do. The Order also gives state governors the authority to activate the EAS statewide and for a geographically targeted area affected by a local emergency.

Finally, the Order requires that EAS participants accept messages using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) version 1.1 when CAP is approved by FEMA.

A standardized alert messaging format, CAP enables a digitally based emergency warning to be distributed simultaneously across multiple platforms. "CAP dramatically increases the possible avenues for alerts to reach the public," says Commissioner Copps. The Order comes less than a year after the President's Executive Order 13407, calling for standard protocols for alert and warning.

Data Messaging Milestone

The FCC's Order is a milestone for CAP v1.1, which was adopted in October 2005 as a standard of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

The standardized message of CAP in Extensible Markup Language (XML) enables emergency responders to exchange communications across a variety of systems-including computers, wireless communications, alarms, television, and radio.

"The FCC mandate is significant in that it acknowledges the versatility of the CAP message format not only for currently deployed systems but also for those not yet envisioned," says OASIS Emergency Management Technical Committee Chair Elysa Jones. "It provides the stepping stone to a fully digital EAS for the future."

In November 2000, the National Science and Technology Council released its Effective Disaster Warnings report, which recommended that, "A standard method should be developed to collect and relay instantaneously and automatically all types of hazard warnings and reports locally, regionally, and nationally for input into a wide variety of dissemination systems." An impetus for CAP's development, the report's recommendations were adopted by a working group comprised of more than 130 emergency managers and information technology experts known as the Partnership for Public Warning. Initial concepts for CAP came from this working group.

Today, CAP is a critical tool for emergency responders. All CAP messages include:

Purpose, source, and status of the emergency Information related to the urgency, severity, and certainty of the emergency Geographic information related to the emergency Option to include reference information about the emergency "CAP's simple and standard format improves emergency responders' ability to communicate warnings and public alerts with effectiveness and efficiency," says Command, Control and Interoperability's Disaster Management Program Manager Denis Gusty. CAP reduces the workload associated with using multiple warning systems by providing a single input to activate diverse alerting and public warning systems. CAP's single input also helps ensure consistency in the information transmitted over multiple delivery systems-key to a warning's effectiveness.

By eliminating the need for multiple custom software interfaces to warning systems and dissemination systems, CAP reduces the costs and operational complexity of transmitting messages over multiple systems.

"The FCC's Order is a positive step," says Gusty.

"The continued implementation of CAP will improve interoperability across agencies and jurisdictions-helping to ensure that our Nation is prepared to respond to whatever disasters tomorrow may bring."

For more information about CAP, visit the OASIS Web site
. For more information about the FCC's Order on CAP, visit the FCC Web site. For more information about the EAS, visit the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau EAS Web site. For more information about Executive Order 13407, visit the FAS Web site.

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