Information exchange model at the next level

Crisis-information schema simplifies core elements

NIEM Modifications

What's new in Version 2 of the National Information Exchange Model:

Central namespace called Core, which combines two others.

Removal of duplicate components from Core.

More than 50 additional adjustments requested by the FBI.

New code lists for hazardous materials, explosives and drugs.

New country codes.

Revised definitions.

New standard-definition formats.

Technical bug fixes.

In addition to the specification itself, a number of tools also will be made available to help in duties such as schema translation. For more information, see the NIEM Web site, at www.niem.gov.

This was code-named the harmonization release. We wanted to harmonize all the data components. ' Paul Wormeli, Integrated Justice Information Institute

Rick Steele

The National Information Exchange Model has gotten its first upgrade. Version 2 should be released by the end of this month, and the final beta is available on the NIEM site.

'There are literally thousands of changes. It's a major extension,' said Paul Wormeli, executive director of the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute, a Justice Department-funded nonprofit that supports the NIEM program management office. 'We've gone through a beta stage where we got a lot of good comments from people, and we're feeling now that this is [a] pretty solid release.'

The large Extensible Markup Language schema, overseen by the Homeland Security and Justice departments, provides a common language for federal, state and local agencies to share information on natural disasters, terrorist attacks and other crises.

Each piece of agency data is tagged by a particular NIEM name so it can easily be identified by systems outside the one where it originated.

The first production version of NIEM appeared in June 2006. It used Justice's Global Justice XML Data Model as the foundation, but is being expanded to cover other common items relating to criminal justice and law enforcement.

Perhaps the major area of change is the unification of namespaces, a term applied to collections of tags.

The first version of NIEM had two main namespaces, Universal and Common.

Universal components were items that would be common to all parties using NIEM. Common components were items that existed in more than one domain.

In this context, a domain is a specific area of interest. NIEM has seven: emergency management, immigration, infrastructure protection, intelligence, international trade, justice and the screening of individuals. It incorporates nearly 4,000 distinct terms.

Having two universal namespaces, however, proved to be problematic for developers of systems that would use NIEM to share its information with third parties. Both namespaces contained terms that were very similar, such as those that described characteristics of people. As a result, developers wouldn't know which terms to use.

To address these concerns, the NIEM development team crafted a single, central namespace called Core for Version 2.0. Components of both the Universal and Common namespaces will remain in NIEM, however.

In addition to that major change, some additional remodeling was done to remove duplication, reduce complexity and generally raise the level of consistency throughout the specification.

'This was code-named the harmonization release. We wanted to harmonize all the data components across all the names,' Wormeli said.

For instance, several agency schemas had different names for the entities dealing with passports that were based on the different contexts in which passports were used. The development community worked to reconcile the terminology among these different versions.

The specification is already being used in some law enforcement efforts, such as the National Data Exchange project, an electronic catalog of criminal information currently being developed by the FBI. And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement deployed NIEM to bridge its record-keeping and call dispatch systems (GCN.com/788).

This version of NIEM will likely stay stable for a while ' 12 to 24 months, Wormeli said. This will give the criminal information system vendors a chance to work NIEM into their products. The program office will concentrate on bug fixes and on laying the groundwork for new capabilities, such as the ability to build reusable software objects based on NIEM.

The office also plans to develop tools to do computational reasoning about the NIEM definitions using technologies being developed in the Semantic Web community, Wormeli said.

'The whole thrust of NIEM is going to [be] building reusable objects that can be used in many different exchanges,' he said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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