Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Emergency Response Information System Interoperability: Development of Chemical Incident Response Data Model *

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Emergency Response Information System Interoperability: Development of Chemical Incident Response Data Model *

Article excerpt


Emergency response requires an efficient information supply chain for the smooth operations of intra- and inter-organizational emergency management processes. However, the breakdown of this information supply chain due to the lack of consistent data standards presents a significant problem. In this paper, we adopt a theory-driven novel approach to develop an XML-based data model that prescribes a comprehensive set of data standards (semantics and internal structures) for emergency management to better address the challenges of information interoperability. Actual documents currently being used in mitigating chemical emergencies from a large number of incidents are used in the analysis stage. The data model development is guided by Activity Theory and is validated through a RFC-like process used in standards development. This paper applies the standards to the real case of a chemical incident scenario. Further, it complies with the national leading initiatives in emergency standards (National Information Exchange Model).

Keywords: Emergency Response, Activity Theory, Data Model, Interoperability, Standards, XML

1. Introduction

The 9/11 commission reports (Kean 2004) as well as analyses of Hurricane Katrina (Townsend 2006) explicate how inadequate emergency response management is a major factor contributing to the lack of an effective response. Among the factors accountable for the observed inadequacy, the response information supply chain (ISC) that connects the response operations and stakeholders has been recognized for its critical role in supporting an effective response during critical incidents (Aylward et al. 2006; DHS et al. 2006; Frale 2005; Harrison et al. 2006; Weinshel 2006). While an efficient ISC demands smooth and seamless interoperability, the reality is that there are no standards that cater to specific types of incidents such as fire or chemical incidents. The efforts of bodies such as the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, and Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) have focused primarily on standards of a more general nature dealing with emergency management issues (e.g., call alert). These have been top-down impositions of standards. However, incidents of specific types and day-to-day operations are handled mostly at local levels (Chen et al. 2005; Chen et al. 2007a). They are typically governed by local regulations and practices and are managed through collaboration with first and second responder communities from neighboring counties and towns (Bui et al. 2001; Chen et al. 2007b; Kim et al. 2007). Therefore, there is a need to adopt a more comprehensive requirements gathering approach that takes into account the social aspects, contradictions, governance rules, division of labor, etc. This paper adopts a novel approach by adapting Activity Theory to provide a framework to develop emergency data standards. Activity Theory prompts consideration of issues and concerns such as communities and sub-communities and the contradictions that are not part of traditional approaches. We provide a more detailed discussion on the approach and the benefits of this approach later in the paper.

The emergency management ISC connects the network of incident reporting sources, scanning agents, interpretation agents, and response agents, and it balances information supply and demand (Sun et al. 2005). Along the information chain, task-critical information that focuses on situational awareness and a common operating picture is exchanged to enable informed decision making and to generate synergy (See Figure 1) (Porter 1985).

An effective information supply chain dictates the necessity to address the challenges of interoperability, which is defined as "the ability of two or more entities or systems to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged" (DHS 2005; IEEE 1990). The issues are more pronounced because the technologies adopted by participating agencies to support the mitigation of a critical incident are, in general, incompatible for reasons ranging from the ability of local agencies to fund technology to the lack of unified guidelines for software and hardware (BJADOJ 2007; Fedorowicz et al. …

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