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XML on alert!

A standard for warnings and alerts.


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XML on alert!

Outside the World Wide Web Consortium, a.k.a. the W3C, another important player in the XML world is OASIS, a not-for-profit international consortium heavily involved in developing and promoting e-business standards. In mid-February, 2004, the organization approved a new XML draft standard entitled the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) 1.0, at the same time it recommended advancement for this draft as an OASIS standard.

According to the terms of the draft specification, what CAP 1.0 does is to define "a simple but general format for exchanging all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks. CAP allows a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, thus increasing warning effectiveness while simplifying the warning task. CAP also facilitates the detection of emerging patterns in local warnings of various kinds, such as might indicate an undetected hazard or hostile act. And CAP provides a template for effective warning messages based on best practices identified in academic research and real-world experience."

In short, what CAP does is to provide consistent, coherent structure and formats for alert messages for all kinds of emergency warning systems. It's designed to make work simpler for those involved in activities like incident preparedness, incident response, and emergency management. It's also intended to create a common framework for the exchange of this kind of information between and among emergency response networks and systems, and to speed up and rationalize how information flows through such systems. That's why the specification deals with topics and issues that include:

  • unified incident identification (a single framework for identifying and describing incidents and alert conditions)
  • emergency Geographic Information System (GIS) data accessibility and usage
  • notification methods and messages (methods and formats for alert information exchange)
  • situational reporting (terms and methods for describing alert circumstances and surroundings, events and activities)
  • source tasking (methods for assigning responses, services, and other related actions and activities)
  • asset and resources management
  • monitoring and data acquisition systems
  • staff, personnel and organizational management

All in all, this specification makes interesting reading not only because of the potentially vital importance of the subject matter, but because of the way it illustrates how XML can be applied to key issues of data representation, communication, and semantics. For those less inclined to view TV as a key illustration of XML relevance to "real life" (the subject of my last XML tip) this makes a more sobering and serious illustration of the same principles at work!


Ed Tittel is a VP of Content Development & Delivery at CapStar LLC, an e-learning company based in Princeton, NJ. Ed runs a small team of content developers and project managers in Austin, TX, and writes regularly on XML and related vocabularies and applications. E-mail Ed at etittel@lanw.com.


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