GIS group advances info-sharing project

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. (OGC) this month expects to launch the next stage of an initiative to help federal, state and local governments share information about systems of vital interest to national security.

OGC expects to announce participants for the second phase of the pilot program of its Critical Infrastructure Protection Initiative (CIPI), with hopes of having systems to demonstrate by April.

Through CIPI, OGC is developing a network via which different jurisdictions can share geospatial information about power plants, telecommunications networks and other core systems.

The first CIPI phase, CIPI-1, began in October and is focused on creating an underlying system for CIPI applications, called the Critical Infrastructure Collaborative Environment.

CIPI-2, sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau, will result in two prototype applications: WebBAS, an online Boundary and Annexation Survey (BAS) that updates information on government boundaries collected from state, county and local governments; and a server solution for delivering Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) data via the Web for use by the public and organizations in compiling their own versions of maps.

The consortium has been encouraged by the response to a general call made several months ago for communities to participate in its programs, said Jeffrey Harrison, director of OGC's interoperability program.

"Communities showed us they were very excited with the idea of using open standards for information sharing and were ready to start collaborating with each other," he said. "We had a significant response from the technology development sector, with some very robust proposals put forward."

With the second phase of the program, OGC seeks to make existing information resources maintained by the federal government more readily available to state and local agencies.

BAS is currently a paper-based process that is highly labor-intensive, said Paul Daisey, an information technologist at the Census Bureau. WebBAS will save governments money and enable those that are too small to have their own dedicated geographic information system staff to update the information on the Web.

TIGER data, which is used to build maps, is currently delivered online, he said, but uses a proprietary format that has to be updated every few years, which is a cumbersome process. An OGC-compliant server solution will use open standards such as Geography Markup Language (GML).

CIPI-2 "is the only initiative we have going on now which is a departure from the way we have done things in the past," Daisey said. "The Office of Management and Budget has been after us for the last 10 years to automate these processes."

With the free flow of information among local, state and federal governments and the private sector seen as the underpinning of homeland security, OGC's efforts are being watched with interest, said David Sonnen, senior consultant for spatial data management at IDC.

Compatibility between different vendors' GIS tools will be vital for this, he said, as will the compatibility of the data they produce. Given the checkered history of other information technology standards programs, there is considerable skepticism about whether OGC will produce the necessary level of compatibility for what have, until now, been proprietary systems, Sonnen said.

The issues that OGC is tackling will show how GML and other GIS-specific geometry and text formats will manage that translation, he said, "and it's not a trivial thing to do."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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Starting one-stop access

The Open GIS Consortium Inc. has published a request for quotations for a joint pilot program with the Office of Management and Budget's Geospatial One-Stop initiative. The aim is to provide one-stop access to government geospatial data resources.

The pilot would build a Web portal and a two-state network to show how data from different communities — which typically don't use the same models to construct and store data — can be combined to provide a comprehensive transportation map.

Active server nodes hosted by California, Oregon, Oregon's Jackson County, and California's Siskiyou County will provide the transportation data.

If the prototype is successful, users will be able to view data and maps via the portal.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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