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Friday, November 16, 2007

Open Source and Messaging's Future

This article presents a conversation with Art Botterell, national
expert in warning systems and former FEMA official. When Art Botterell
was helping develop public warning systems in California a decade ago,
the state already had sirens and broadcast TV messaging. So he and
others began adding telephones, weather radios and computers. He saw
an urgent need for a common messaging format that would be freely
available to all vendors and users. He helped organize a grass-roots
effort in 2000 and 2001 for more than 100 computer programming
volunteers active in emergency management to create an Extensible
Markup Language format for public warning messages. It was named the
Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). Botterell: "What we found was that
if you start with the technology, you have to devise the message to
fit the technology. With CAP, we started with the social science and
the need for public warnings. We defined the characteristics of an
effective warning system and messaging system and developed it from
there to fit multiple devices and formats. An effective message has
to hit you two to three times, so it has to be multimodal. Most people
will not evacuate based on a solitary message... You can prepare for
a disaster with the National Incident Management System and the National
Response Framework, but the reality is always messy and unpredictable.
There always will be chaos and people who have not worked together
before. You need something like a Google search engine available to
help officials quickly identify all assets available for response,
regardless of the source. That is the next frontier. We need help
with navigation, indexing and discussing. We constantly need innovation
to solve the really deep and interesting problems. If we allow the
existing set of contractors to define the space, they will define it
with solutions that they already have. I hope that the CAP can serve
as an example of an alternative way of doing things from the grass-roots.
Open-source computing is a vital partner for developing solutions.

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