Multi-agency situational awareness systems

By: Doug Allport

I was recently tasked with refreshing the definition of our national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness Systems (MASAS) initiative, in one line, one paragraph, and one page, for all stakeholders. Given that our MASAS community includes local to federal emergency management officials, first responders to Deputy Ministers, application vendors and academics, that’s a lot of ground to cover with but a few words.

When Larry Pearce asked me to submit an article for HAZNET, I viewed it is an opportunity to clarify what MASAS is within the CRHNet community…and to seek a little help with my task. So, if you will be so kind, please read on and then let me know what you need to know about MASAS that could have also been included in one line, one paragraph, or one page. An email link can be found at the end of article.

MASAS in One Line

The national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness Systems (MASAS) initiative has established an innovative approach and technical solution for sharing authoritative location-based situational awareness information, in near real time, within Canada’s emergency management community, and across the border with our American colleagues.

MASAS in One Paragraph

The national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness Systems (MASAS) initiative has established an innovative approach and technical solution for sharing authoritative location-based situational awareness information, in near real time, within Canada’s emergency management community, and across the border with our American colleagues.  MASAS takes a system of systems approach – connecting many disparate systems by leveraging open geospatial standards, alerting and messaging protocols, and operational policies.  By providing open source code to developers, barriers to adoption and interoperability using existing tools are reduced. For emergency management officials without applications, MASAS offers basic web hosted tools for posting and sharing their information and alerts. The national MASAS implementation team, funded and guided by the national GeoConnections Program in concert with the Centre for Security Sciences, continues its’ efforts to build an enduring national capability, in alignment with the Communications Interoperability Strategy and Action Plan for Canada.

MASAS in One Page

The national Multi-Agency Situational Awareness Systems (MASAS) initiative has established an innovative approach and technical solution for sharing authoritative location-based situational awareness information, in near real time, within Canada’s emergency management community, and across the border with our American colleagues. 

MASAS is a joint initiative of Natural Resources Canada’s GeoConnections Program and the Centre for Security Sciences. They fund and guide a national MASAS implementation team of subject matter experts, whose task it is to build an enduring national capability, in alignment with the Communications Interoperability Strategy and Action Plan for Canada.

Initial MASAS efforts are focused on sharing unclassified information, which covers most of the information shared during a major event. As an example, MASAS stakeholders continue to put road obstructions at the top of the priority list for information sharing. Why? Because they affect police, fire, medical, and utility response times on a daily basis, and not just during major events. MASAS can certainly support higher classification levels, and studies are underway towards sharing classified and unclassified content in the same system.

MASAS is based on a system of systems approach, leveraging open international geospatial standards and alerting and messaging protocols. For example, location-based information is tagged and shared by the Atom GeoRSS protocol and the Common Alerting Protocol – Canadian Profile (CAP-CP) message format.  As the MASAS Architecture evolves, the entire suite of Emergency Data Exchange Language (EDXL) protocols under development, including those for Situation Reports, Resource Messaging, and Tracking of Emergency Patients, will be considered.

To remove barriers to adoption and interoperability, MASAS offers developers open source software code, without fees. The code and MASAS Application Program Interface (API) are available for free through an online service called Intellectual Resources Canada (IRCan). Stakeholders are encouraged to register at www.MASAS.ca to be kept informed of all releases, revisions and webinar notices.

To ensure no stakeholder gets left behind for lack of resources, MASAS offers a basic tool set for emergency management officials who do not have MASAS interoperable emergency management and GIS applications. These web-hosted tools support posting and viewing information and alerts within MASAS. They can also be used by any MASAS stakeholder, perhaps as a back-up to their own tools.

A key feature of MASAS is the location tagging and symbolization of the many bits of information otherwise buried in situation reports, emails, and other documents.  This offers an intuitive visual presentation of emergencies and disasters that enhances collaborative decision-making.  Further, MASAS establishes the practice of sharing information from the authoritative source, more accurately, timely, and efficiently. Alerts and location based event information can be posted in a minute or two, rather than hours. Integration with incident management systems can avoid duplication of efforts.

For 2011, objectives for MASAS include full interoperability with the U.S. Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Open Platform; integration with decision support systems such as the HAZUS tool for natural hazard risk assessment; further examination of operational policies, such as data sharing agreements; the development and implementation of a sustained governance and operating model; and continued efforts to build the MASAS community.

For more information, visit www.MASAS.ca. To keep informed, or to get involved in the discussion, be sure to register.

As noted above, your comments and suggestions are encouraged.

My email address is Doug@AllportGroup.com. Thank you.

Doug Allport is a Special Advisor to the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness Systems (MASAS) National Implementation Team, the President of the Allport Group Inc., and the volunteer Executive Director of the Canadian Association for Public Alerting and Notification (CAPAN). He also serves on the National Alert and Aggregation Dissemination (NAAD) system governance council.

Doug’s passion for emergency communications began 16 years ago with the invention of an alerting method he licensed to Canadian and U.S. telecommunications companies. He then turned his attention to the first and middle mile distribution challenges addressed by MASAS, NAAD, and EMnet before them. As an elected trustee of the US Partnership for Public Warning (PPW), he supported the standardization of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), before making the case for a Canadian Profile of CAP (CAP-CP) and CAPAN