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September 01, 2008
Update on the DHS Data Model
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
Each GIS Weekly Review delivers to its readers news concerning the latest developments in the GIS industry, GIS product and company news, featured downloads, customer wins, and coming events, along with a selection of other articles that we feel you might find interesting. Brought to you by GISCafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

September 1, 2008

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Industry News

Update on the DHS Data Model

By Susan Smith

What is the Department of Homeland Security Data Model?

The DHS Data Model (DHS GDM) is the product of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Geospatial Management Office (GMO) in support of urgent DHS mission requirements. I’ve spoken to a number of people about the Data Model and it appears to be an effort to aggregate data from state and local governments, which have some of the best base and event data, with federal data. At first glance it may look like the DHS wants to put it all together in one database, but it is more of an attempt to create a common understanding between 50+ states, 3,100+ counties, and 20,000 taxing entities, a “service oriented architecture”
published in Universal Modeling Language (UML) and XML.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Data Model has been around since July of 2007, openly published on the Federal Geospatial Data Committee’s (FGDC) website, based, according to Mark Eustis, Department of Homeland Security, OCIO and GMO, and Mike Lee, FGDC Homeland Security Working Group on “open government and international standards.”

A definition of the DHS Geospatial Data Model (GDM) found on the FGDC site reads as follows: “This DHS GDM is a standards based, logical data model to be used for collection, discovery, storage, and sharing of homeland security geospatial data. The model will support development of the Department’s services-based geospatial architecture, and will serve as an extract, transform, and load (ETL) template for content aggregation.”

According to a report published in July, 2006, the DHS is mandated to comply with standards, and the standards listed at that time include the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) and FGDC framework standard.

According to Eustis, “the GDM is a harmonized collection of International, Federal, and certain community standards…as well as national plan recommendations, DHS sector-specific requirements, and various emergency-response and general standards models from pertinent resources. Here’s the abridged list:

Primary/Core sources
  • FGDC Framework Data Content Standard.
  • USGS Project Bluebook data model (ESRI form),
  • National Information Exchange Model (NIEM),

  • Secondary and/or associated sector-specific resources
  • FEMA MultiHazard; Emergency Management & Infrastructure Protection,
  • DHS Infrastructure Protection Taxonomy, v1.0
  • Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) Feature IDs and types,
  • Feature types for FGDC Emergency Management Symbology,
  • National Incident Management System (NIMS) Resource types,
  • National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) Feature Types,
  • FGDC Cadastral Subcommittee, Revised Cadastral Model,
  • National Response Plan Categories,
  • Homeland Security Infrastructure Protection (HSIP) Feature Types,
  • NASA Land Cover Classification types,
  • American Planning Association (APA) Land Use Classifications,
  • FGDC and ISO Geospatial Metadata

  • The GDM that is the source for the data schemas produced by the GDM-o-Matic is an entirely open, completely standards-based conceptual model.”

    So far the DHS Data Model aggregates a lot of the domain experience from the emergency community including: FEMA, FGDC, National Response Frameworks, data products that are emanating from the NGA, and modeling done against the feature types that are within the Homeland Security Infrastructure Program (HSIP) dataset.

    The bottom line is that the standards the DHS refers to are informed by federal Homeland Security agency standards and other federal agencies and their reliance on ESRI software and geodatabases. The DHS Data Model is not software or platform independent at this time.

    “Think of the data model like the New York Public Library and it contains everything there is to know about almost everything that could happen in and around the emergency services world, which includes the potential impacts to environment, infrastructure, and a number of different domain areas,” explained Eustis. The “schema generation tool” or “GDM-o-Matic,” an implementation model translation tool, allows people to extract a direct implementation model and put that into their ESRI software. “It will also publish an open XML format product in our next iteration, but the schemas that are produced now are an XML product, formatted to fit into
    the standards that ESRI uses.”

    Two questions come to mind in reviewing this information: 1) Does the DHS Data Model use Geographic Markup Language (GML), the XML grammar defined by the
    Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) to express geographical features? GML serves as a modeling language for geographic systems as well as an open interchange format for geographic transactions on the Internet (as defined by the OGC website). And 2) Where does extract, translate and load (ETL), the translation software designed by Safe Software, come in?

    Eustis explained that “GML is an object based language and ESRI is not. ESRI is the tool that DHS uses internally and it’s the tool that, according to Daratech, has an 89% marketshare in the state and local communities.”

    However, pure GML is available directly on the FGDC website with some Oracle Spatial implementations, and “as the tool evolves I guess there’s an expectation that we will be publishing pure open GML-NIEM-compliant XML and work towards the open formats,” Eustis added.

    Because this is an evolutionary process, Eustis said that they have started with the tool with which the DHS and NASA have an enterprise license, and that is ESRI, so “ESRI geodatabases and formatting standards are the industrial standard that folks tend to be using. The hosts and nomenclature (of the DHS Data Model) all come from open standards and it’s our hope and plan, depending upon reaction from the community, to continue to support and move towards more and more formats and standards. The next one will be the NIEM XML. The XML statement can be parsed by any tool you want. There’s nothing hidden.”

    NIEM is the National Information Exchange Model, a collaborative program between DHS, the Department of Justice and a number of other entities within the federal community. NIEM builds on the longstanding global justice data XML format GJXML.

    The modeling team also builds Oracle implementations to serve other users, such as Autodesk, Intergraph and MapInfo users who work with Oracle Spatial. “The plan is to ensure that this technology remains as open, accessible, and useful as possible; thus the sponsorship and release through the FGDC,” said Lee.

    Safe Software, creators of extract, translate and load (ETL) technology, plans to adapt the technology that the DHS has produced to generate schemas in the schema generation tool (sometimes called the GDM-o-Matic) so that it can generate schemas transfer files back and forth are conformant to the GDM. Safe will build this capability into their software.

    Eustis described the GDM as a bigger conceptual repository of information and the schema generation tool, GDM-o-Matic allows people within particular sectors of HS in particular geographic areas to reach into that repository of information and pull out information that is very specific to them and share data in that common knowledge. People always have different ways of doing things in different places. The GDM conceptual model provides a common operational picture and reference point for users to find features and attributes they need, and if necessary use the ETL process.

    “Sharing data is not a trivial process,” Eustis pointed out. “One group called a hydrant a hydrant, another group might call a hydrant “hyd” or another group might call it a standpipe. You need to have some mechanism of standardizing the nomenclature and then providing the tools that people can map from one space to the next.”

    Paul Daisey, Geographic Division, U.S. Census, OGC, incidentally was one of the authors of both UML and GML. Eustis said that UML, the conceptual language of GDM, could be “exported as a GML model if someone wants one.”

    The DHS Data Model follows the formula in place for ESRI’s other specific industry data models.

    Ken Marshall, Data Content Advisor for GeoConnections, Canada’s national spatial data infrastructure initiative, was the lead for developing the Canadian National Infrastructure Data Model which leveraged the U.S. DHS Geospatial Data Model as its template. However, what is different about the National Infrastructure Data Model is that it is open.

    Paula Rojas, GeoConnections Canadian Geospatial Data Infrastructure Content Coordinator at Natural Resources Canada, said, “Our data model in Canada is open. When we developed it, we had it tested on various database platforms so it can be database independent and software independent. In Canada we used a user driven approach that was the requirement of the emergency management community. We found out what they needed, and we based our data model on their needs and then they consulted on the data model and were able to get feedback on it before we finalized it, which was useful to them.”

    Rojas was quick to point out that there is a difference between system interoperability and data interoperability. “When we talk about systems being able to interact with each other through true web services and standard interfaces, those are some of the standards put out by the OGC, like the Web Map Services (WMS), etc. When we’re talking about data content standards, which is about the data itself, not how the systems communicate together, but facilitates how the system understands the data, that’s where we develop things like data models, data schemas to have common sorts of structures and languages about data so it can be shared and understood by different

    “Each data model is more of a data standard,” explained Rojas, “so when you’re looking at comments about compliance with OGC, etc. I don’t think that’s relevant.” UML data modeling language is a standard used to describe data models for the DHS data model, according to Rojas. When it comes to data content standards or data encoding standards in the OGC, right now they have the GML spec and simple features spec but those are independent of what the data model is. “So I don’t understand people’s concerns with compatibility with the OGC. OGC is not in the business of semantic data standards, meaning standards for specific
    thematic communities. In this case, it would be the public safety communities’ needs for critical infrastructure data. It’s very specific.”

    Ken Marshall gave his perspective, on why Canada looked at the DHS Data Model and what they understand it to be. “In 2004, several agencies in Canada got together with the military in the U.S. to come up with something they call the Cross Border Infrastructure Plan. Since a lot of the Canadian population lives close to the American border, and major cities are close, they wanted all the geospatial information within that 100-mile swath on either side of the border so both Canadian and U.S. military could have a more complete picture of the infrastructure in that area. So they developed the Cross Border Infrastructure Plan which was the foundation for the data model.” On
    the Canadian side, GeoConnections lead the development of the National Infrastructure Data Model, relying on the recommendation of their public safety program which advised they needed this model to help them with Cross Border Infrastructure Plan, which was used for the foundation for the National Infrastructure Data Model.

    Public Safety Canada, which is the Canadian counterpart for DHS in the U.S., has the mandate for federal emergency management coordination and broader strategic policy considerations for emergency management and public safety in Canada. They’re the lead on the critical infrastructure programming in Canada dealing with issues such as how the governments will work together to protect critical infrastructure, and plan for the upcoming 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

    Public Safety Canada created ten infrastructure sectors including energy, utilities and transportation. “One key difference is that it is a very strategic data model, in the sense that it’s really intended for emergency managers to use –it doesn’t describe or structure all the attributes of the infrastructure that we’re attempting to describe. It’s very high level, and really to be used for emergency managers, based on consultations and the history of what was done before in the Cross Border Infrastructure environment,” said Marshall.

    DHS and Public Safety Canada intend to work together in case of a cross border emergency. People in the different organizations will be able to use the same underlying database and information and look at the same common operational picture.

    Sam Bacharach, Executive Director, Outreach and Community Adoption, for the OGC,

    agreed that “the data model is something OGC doesn’t do.” He added, “The existing data model is an absolute necessity for us to move forward.”

    Bacharach described the DHS Data Model as “something I can translate my data into and give to you, it’s a format you can give me data in and I will understand it. So I’ve only got to do one transform algorithm, I don’t have to map in 10,000 different data sources. It’s tough when you’ve got people from the city, county, state and federal and the commercial world – many of whom have data too. From a data model perspective they’re doing a great job.”

    It takes an enormous number of people to manage data, and collect it from the various counties, municipalities and states, Bacharach pointed out. There isn’t enough money to do this. The answer is the DHS Data Model, because “they need something now. As an example, the City of Charlotte serves street center line data out of its own servers on the National Map, so when they make a change it doesn’t have to go through North Carolina and the federal government and whoever else has to be included. It’s just there. That’s the direction we need to be going.”

    “Think of bandwidth, think of serving capacity and think of data,” said Bacharach. “As bandwidth gets faster, people will say I’d use the National Map but it is so slow compared to Google Maps. The National Map has one machine sitting in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, it’s got a big fat pipe but it’s only one machine, and Google has half of its 500,000 servers serving maps. Is it any wonder Google Maps is any faster?”

    The government needs to take this factor into account, said Bacharach, as right now if there was a catastrophe in a big city and that city was serving live vector data, they would have a hard time serving 500 emergency responders who need the data now. They also don’t yet have the security framework in place that would keep others out.

    Also, in an emergency, many people want to access maps immediately. “If you’ve got a little server and 50,000 people trying to get data out of it, the people who need the data can’t get to it. The mechanisms to be able to control that data by role by user, plus serving the data are being developed now.”

    Bacharach said that the DHS Data Model v.2 is already being used by government agencies who are using the OGC interface and GML encodings to move data from one system to another. The Department of Defense has mandated these standards be used, and all the large vendors support the core OGC standards anyway.

    “When you realize three or four government civilians and four or five contractors are the sum total of the Geospatial Management Office of DHS, an organization with the responsibilities they’ve got? They’re pretty busy people,” Bacharach noted. “If they weren’t trying to stand an agency up they’d still be super busy.”

    In summary Bacharach said the DHS Data Model effort “ is not incompatible with OGC at all. Right now they’re focusing on the database, and as it moves out and as more people get hold of it and use it, I’m confident it will go the open standardized way.”

    Top News of the Week

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    Around the Web

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    Place: University of Exeter

    Cornwall Campus, Falmouth, United Kingdom
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    The Spatial Sciences Institute’s Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry (RS & P) Commission and the 14ARSPC Organising Committee, look forward to welcoming all delegates to the 14ARSPC in Darwin, Northern Territory, held from 29 September-3 October 2008.

    The first of the ARSPC biennial series was held in 1979. It is exciting that for the first time in the conference’s 29 year history, it will be held in Australia’s most northern tropical city,
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    You can find the full GISCafe event calendar here.

    To read more news, click here.

    -- Susan Smith, GISCafe.com Managing Editor.