Homeland Security: Georgia Tech Helps Provide Foundation for New Justice Information Sharing Initiative
Based on the popular extensible markup language (XML), the Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM) was recently released in Version 3.0 for use by software developers - and won an Intergovernmental Solutions Award from the American Council for Technology (ACT).
"Incompatible databases and computer systems for many years have limited the ability of federal, state, tribal and local agencies to rapidly and efficiently share justice information," said John Wandelt, senior research scientist with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). "The Global Justice XML Data Model initiative is sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), which is the agency within the Department of Justice that administers federal funding designed to support justice information sharing between local, state and tribal jurisdictions. The initiative is designed to provide a way to translate information between different systems, allowing a more efficient flow of data among agencies that need to share information about potential criminal and terrorist activity."
Wandelt and other researchers in GTRI's Information Technology and Telecommunications Laboratory provided engineering support and technical guidance for the new system as part of a broad-based collaboration involving dozens of agencies and industry partners. Two partners that have played a crucial role working in support of this effort are the XML Structure Task Force (XSTF) and the Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute. Both of these groups have helped guide the initiative by focusing the model to meet user requirements from practitioners around the country.
The recently-released Version 3.0 of GJXDM is being used in more than 50 information sharing efforts - including the national AMBER Alert program already in operation.
The GJXDM initiative involves three major components: an object-oriented data model, a data dictionary and XML schema specification. The data model and dictionary are part of common "vocabulary" used by different computer systems to describe data objects to be shared. Using these standardized definitions, software scripts automatically translate information as it passes from one system to another.
"By providing a common language and vocabulary, the XML initiative allows agencies to efficiently share data while continuing to maintain their own data and operate their own computer systems," Wandelt noted. "This avoids the cost and compatibility issues that would be involved in trying to develop a single unified national network. It also provides a foundation that individual agencies can use to develop compatible systems without having to re-invent key elements."
The standardized data objects were chosen by representatives from the agencies and industry partners that have been working together since March 2001. The group, known as the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative, identified approximately 2,500 common data objects after reviewing more than 20,000 candidate objects, many of which were redundant.
The Department of Justice recently hosted a developer's workshop at GTRI attended by more than 300 representatives of justice agencies and industry to explain how the data model works and how individual agencies can adapt it to their own needs.
"Emerging technologies like XML are a core component of our strategy to give state and local governments new tactics and methods to help them respond to the security challenges of a post September 11 era," noted Deborah Daniels, assistant attorney general in the Office of Justice Programs. "We recognize the ability of XML to bring about paradigm shifts in information processing, and in our responses to an increasingly complex and technology-driven world."
Daniels noted that XML has become widely used in the commercial world, where it facilitates communication among organizations and reduces the cost of creating new applications by allowing re-use of existing data objects.
"Our goal at the Department of Justice is to generate similar advantages for agencies fighting crime and terrorism by encouraging adoption of the Global Justice XML Data Model," Daniels told the developers at the May 11 workshop. "In the aftermath of September 11, we've seen how critical it is that law enforcement and emergency response officials do a better job of sharing criminal intelligence to prevent terrorism and ensure that our homeland and its people are protected."
In her presentation, Daniels cited examples of how GJXDM has already helped public safety and criminal justice agencies:
Pennsylvania authorities were able to quickly capture a bank robbery suspect by matching his bank surveillance photo with an image on that state's XML-enabled justice information sharing network.
Minnesota's Department of Public Safety reported saving more than a million dollars over three years by using the XML Data Model rather than developing its own statewide standard for information systems.
A search tool was recently added to Global Justice XML to facilitate the identification and location of appropriate data objects. For the future, plans call for continued improvements in the data model, including addition of a sub-schema generation tool, performance testing and an online database that will allow developers to post information about their applications.
Global Justice XML was one of eight government information technology projects recognized by the American Council for Technology May 24th at its annual Management of Change conference in Philadelphia, PA.
"We are pleased to be part of this vital national effort," said Stephen Cross, GTRI's director. "Information technology will continue to play a vital role in helping improve the safety and security of the United States. GTRI's experience and expertise in these areas allow us an opportunity to make a vital contribution."