Athina Trakas, Director, European Services, Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)
(Note: Portions of this paper are excerpted from a longer paper by Mark Reichardt, President & CEO, OGC, titled “Open standards-based geoprocessing Web services support the study and management of hazard and risk,” submitted for publication in the Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk Journal.)
In recent years, providers of geospatial software and online services – GIS, Earth imaging, navigation, location services, map browsers, etc. – have implemented interfaces and encodings based on a robust framework of open geoprocessing and sensor web enablement standards developed by the OGC. The OGC is an open, consensus-based standards development organization. Products and services implementing these standards are coming into wide use in domains such as ocean observation, defense and intelligence, and civil protection, and they are beginning to be used in many other domains, including emergency and disaster management. Some of the OGC members who are involved with emergency and disaster management are working to advance the use of these standards in applications that also involve new computing models like cloud computing.
This article provides information about the relevant standards used in emergency and disaster management, a list of OGC interoperability initiatives to illustrate the value of open standards in studying and managing natural risks and hazards, and a short introduction to the OGC Emergency and Disaster Management Domain Working Group (E&D DWG).
Cooperation between the geospatial community and the science community is particularly important in studying natural hazards and risks, because observations from multiple disciplines and multiple data collection activities need to be considered together. Arguably, all disciplines that produce and use geospatial data have a need for more data sharing and collaboration. Standardization is a key factor for accessibility of data. It is the definition and adoption of common interfaces and encodings that enables interoperability.
Twenty-eight member-approved OGC standards are currently available. The summary descriptions of some OGC standards below provide the current scope:
The full set of OGC standards, including Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) standards described below, along with reference models, standards profiles, public engineering reports, best practices documents, discussion papers and white papers are available at http://www.opengeospatial.org/standards.
A Glossary of Terms is available at http://www.opengeospatial.org/ogc/glossary/.
Most geospatial data is created by means of sensing and measurement devices (gauges, satellite-borne imaging cameras etc). Most sensors have a location that is pertinent to the sensor’s purpose. For these reasons, OGC members have developed a set of “Sensor Web Enablement” (SWE) standards that provide a Web services framework for working with sensors and sensor data. The following descriptions of some of these standards provides a sense of the scope of this set of free and open resources for the emergency and disaster management community:
A scenario in the 2008/2009 OGC Web Services 6 (OWS-6) Testbed activity involved an actual implementation of SWE standards in Taiwan and chained Web services in a working debris flow monitoring system. In parts of Taiwan - due to the steep terrain, severe weather (frequent typhoons) and geology (unstable soils and frequent earthquakes) - upland river valleys are subject to sudden and dangerous flows of earth and boulders. Therefore it is important to provide alerts and warnings. This scenario involved alerts, notifications, grid processing and real-time event architecture.
Figure 1. OGC standards have been implemented in a real-time debris flow warning system in Taiwan. (Figure from Geographic Information Systems Research Center at Feng Chia University in Taiwan)
Development and deployment of this system was carried out by researchers and engineers at the GIS Research Center, at Feng Chia University in Taichung, Taiwan and at the Industrial Technology and Research Institute (ITRI). Deployment of an operational Taiwan Debris Flow Monitoring System proceeded throughout 2009, resulting in a working system that supports monitoring of critical conditions. This system provides significantly increased protection for citizens and businesses in thirteen of the river valleys in Taiwan that have the highest potential for debris flows.
At thirteen fixed locations, sensors such as rain gauges, geophones, wire sensors and water level meters provide observation data through ADSL networks or satellite links. Two mobile vehicles equipped with monitoring devices can be dispatched to areas where debris flows are likely.
Web services that implement the OGC Sensor Observation Service (SOS), Sensor Planning Service (SPS) and Sensor Alert Service (SAS) Interface Standards enable communication between the various parts of the system. Components that provide alert notices use the OGC Web Notification Service (WNS). Applications, including one that provides Short Message Service (SMS) alerts, can access stored and real-time data. In some applications, users can click on sensor icons in graphical 3D terrain views to check on the status and outputs of sensors.
The Feng Chia University and ITRI team have provided a comprehensive OGC Best Practices document that serves as a cookbook for implementing SWE, including schemas, examples and working code.
As a major “Integrated Project” in the Sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission (IST-FP6), SANY extended the interoperability advances of the earlier European project, ORCHESTRA, into the domain of environmental sensor networks and standards-based sensor web enablement to support decision-making.
OGC SWE standards were applied in SANY to three innovative risk management applications involving air pollution, marine risks and geohazards. These efforts yielded valuable reference implementations of sensor web services and geospatial processing Web services for decision support and data fusion.
Figure 2: This book summarizes the approaches and results of the SANY project.
Further information and details on the open architecture for sensor networks is available at http://www.sany-ip.eu/publications/3317.
Open source software that implements SWE standards is being used in a number of real-world systems, including a monitoring and control system for the Wupper River watershed in Germany, an Advanced Fire Information System (AFIS), and a wildfire monitoring system in South Africa. Another is the German Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS), a 35 million Euros project of the German Aerospace Agency (DLR) and the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam (GFZ). GITEWS uses SWE services for sharing tsunami related information among GITEWS software components. Real-time sensors and simulation models provide data for GITEWS.
Figure 3: GITEWS provides indicators of a tsunami and its dimensions by the analysis of different measurements at a very early stage.
More detailed information is available at http://www.gitews.org.
The OGC, through its Interoperability Program (IP), facilitates testbeds, pilot projects and interoperability experiments in which standards are created and tested. Many of these interoperability initiatives, as shown in the examples below, have had at least a partial focus on hazards and risk, both natural and man-made.
Figure 4: Visualization of Weather Forecast Model Output
Other OGC interoperability initiatives that are directly relevant to emergency and disaster management include: a series of Critical Infrastructure Protection Initiatives, Emergency Mapping Symbology, Fusion Standards Study, Geospatial Fusion Pilot Project, Geospatial Fusion Testbed, Kentucky Watershed Modeling Information Portal, Multihazard Mapping Initiative, Open Location Services Testbed and Sensor Alert Service Interoperability Experiment.
The OGC Technical Committee’s 26 domain working groups (DWG) bring together experts from various fields of activity to review and develop standards that meet their domains’ requirements. Domain working groups also sometimes focus on domain-specific data models and schemas that facilitate discovery, access, sharing, analysis, visualization and processing of information among stakeholder organizations. The Technical Committee’s 28 standards working groups (SWG) each have a charter to work on a specific candidate standard prior to approval as an OGC standard or to work on making revisions to an existing OGC standard.
The OGC Emergency and Disaster Management Domain Working Group (EDM DWG) (http://www.opengeospatial.org/projects/groups/edmdwg) provides a forum for uniting communities of users including government agencies, industry, research organizations, Non Governmental Organizations and others whose work involves emergency and disaster management. Like the other Domain Working Groups, the EDM DWG promotes and supports the establishment of requirements, standards and best practices for web service interfaces and encodings.
An example of a standards working group of interest to the EDM community is the Geo Short Messaging Service (GeoSMS) Standard Working Group, which is advancing the OGC Candidate Open GeoSMS Standard as an OGC adopted standard. This candidate standard, currently an OGC Discussion Paper, defines an SMS format to exchange GPS information for different location services devices and applications. The GeoSMS SWG will ensure that the standard is consistent with the OGC baseline, that is, the set of adopted OGC abstract standards, reference models and implementation standards. This is critical, because it will be important in the EDM world for location information from mobile devices and social networking applications to be useable in decision support applications that also involve much more complex types of geospatial data and processing.
The OGC has several committees besides the Technical Committee. A new Business Value Committee has been chartered in the Technical Committee to, as its charter states, “…identify, coordinate and promote the business value of OGC standards and programmes through engaging member senior managers, commercial, sales marketing professionals as well as policy makers and strategic decision makers. The goal is to build a Standard Value Model supported through case studies, reference implementations and business cases for the development and use of geospatial standards in various industry domains and across the community.”
Through open standards – TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML and others – the Internet and the Web connect computers in an extraordinary communications network. The open standards developed by the OGC build on this platform to connect, among other resources, the geospatial software products used in emergency and disaster management. OGC standards have become well established in the marketplace and it is now quite feasible for purchasers of geospatial software to select products whose interfaces and encodings match those of products used by data sharing partners – that is, the products are compliant with the same OGC standards. The standards make it much easier for developers to create interoperable systems, such as sensor webs for early warning, and they make it much easier for decision makers to obtain information from multiple sources at any stage in crisis management. The use of standards considerably reduces investment risks.
Much opportunity remains, however, for information community leaders to contribute requirements into the standards development process and to develop best practices for the communication of geospatial information in their communities. Membership in the OGC helps communities collaborate and exchange knowledge, and it provides opportunities to influence the direction of standards development in important environmental and other arenas.