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Back to Archives | Back to April 2007 Contents 

Interagency Information Sharing: The National Information Exchange Model

By Michael Haslip, Chief of Police, Blaine, Washington, and Paul Wormeli, Chairman, Communications and Outreach Committee, National Information Exchange Model, Ashburn, Virginia


he public rightly expects that criminal justice agencies and especially law enforcement agencies at all levels of government will cooperate and share information seamlessly. This belief is supported by the entertainment industry’s fictional depiction of this ideal as a present-day ubiquitous fact. For law enforcement professionals, the pressures, importance, and benefits of sharing information as efficiently as practicable are anything but fiction. September 11 may well have been a different day if a robust information sharing capacity and culture had already existed across the United States as the terrorists were planning their attack. The threats are real and the consequences of failure are as unacceptable to chiefs as they are to their communities. At the same time, the resources needed to build and deploy effective sharing tools grow ever tighter. This article will explore the development of the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) as a logical next step in successful and cost effective information sharing. It will outline what NIEM can provide to law enforcement managers facing the growing demands and expectations for information sharing and will explain what resources are available now to assist police executives.


Accomplishments since September 11

Since September 11, much has been done to improve the sharing of information between law enforcement departments, across the continuum from local to federal agencies, and with other members of the criminal justice community. Guided by the Global Justice Information Sharing Initiative (Global), practitioners, scientists, and industry representatives have created a robust set of tools for automated information exchange called the Justice eXtensible Markup Language (XML) Data Model, or JXDM. The growth and maturation of this model has paralleled the intensity of the need to share information across the justice spectrum. Law enforcement professionals are now facing a growing need to share information with entities outside criminal justice, such as other emergency response disciplines, the intelligence community, and others involved in homeland security. NIEM is a standard of choice that is being deployed across government agencies to facilitate the exchange of information between law enforcement and other disciplines.
acronyms

NIEM can be viewed as a tool for planning and implementing information exchanges just as the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) are tools for preparing for and effectively handling incidents. It is almost an axiom of law enforcement and emergency response that communications is the first function to break down during the handling of a significant event. Every chief knows that even when the hardware is in place to ensure physical connectivity, the underlying procedures, vocabulary, and business processes used by responders from various disciplines can conflict. The result is inefficient or nonexistent exchange of critical information, delays, and a subsequent loss of situational awareness and operational effectiveness.

To combat this problem, ICS and NIMS are designed to ensure a common nomenclature and provide a framework for handling events and incidents that is understood by all practitioners of the various disciplines that communicate and interact to resolve a problem. These systems provide a common standard for responders and planners: their protocols are replicable across a wide variety of situations and significant time and energy can be saved by using these tools. Because they work, ICS and NIMS have been adopted as national standards.

The standards subsumed in NIEM provide similar benefits to information sharing. NIEM is designed to describe people, places, things, and events and the relationships between and among all of them at different points in time, across domains.

NIEM expands on the success of Global Justice XML to help law enforcement managers respond to the increased daily inter- and intradisciplinary information sharing needs of our post–September 11 environment.


NIEM and Information Sharing

Automated information sharing across jurisdictions and disciplines can be implemented only if there are standards sufficient for computers to exchange information in a way that allows different systems to decipher the data in the exchange. The classical approach to information sharing created by the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and facilitated by the international justice and public safety information network known as the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (Nlets) and state communications networks have traditionally been based on message formats where a query results in a response that is readable by the person submitting the inquiry. Moving the data from one system to another and then storing them in a different format requires that there be some kind of transformation rules that the computer can understand and act on.
Fig. 1. NIEM at 50,000 Feet

This need for specificity in automation has led to the creation of a common set of data definitions and structure that becomes the translation layer between systems. Data definitions such as the meaning of the word incident and all the parameters that define an incident in terms that a computer can interpret are at the heart of NIEM (www.niem.gov).

NIEM was created by a memorandum of understanding signed by the chief information officers of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security in February 2005. In developing NIEM, the two departments relied heavily on the highly successful Global Justice XML Data Model (GJXDM). This set of data standards was completely developed by a consensus process engaging state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and corrections officials and technologists as well as industry representatives. It was designed to be an open standard that would be built on the newly created open standards adopted by industry to foster information exchanges using the tools of XML and related standards designed for commercial information exchanges. Applying these technologies to the law enforcement and justice world required the development of a consensus on the meaning of terms and the format for the exchanges.

The success of the GJXDM prompted officials not only to use the results of the consensus process as expressed in the model, but also to adopt many of the organizational approaches that were used in building consensus. As a result, NIEM is also based on a consensus building process, where representatives of multiple domains work together to achieve a common understanding of terms and data structures.
Fig. 2. NIEM Organization Chart

NIEM addresses the need of law enforcement to share data with other jurisdictions, with justice entities (such as prosecutors, courts, and corrections), and with other domains such as intelligence, emergency response, and disaster management. It is the single standard for defining common terms and formats for exchanging data with other public safety agencies as well as other jurisdictions. To simplify and expedite information exchanges, NIEM becomes the middle ground between multiple disparate systems. When the NIEM standard is adopted by the originator and recipient of an exchange, there is a common and complete specification of the automated version of the exchange so it does not matter how each party to the exchange stores the data or presents them, as long as the data are translated for the purposes of making the exchange using the NIEM standard. NIEM allows law enforcement to maximize the value of information sharing across domains by providing a business-driven common data standard vocabulary that can be shared between systems and communities of interest.

Each participating community of interest owns (manages) a separate section of the NIEM that contains the data elements unique to that community or domain. For law enforcement, this domain is the justice domain. Other communities, such as intelligence and emergency management, have their own sections to manage. In addition, representatives of the various participating domains come together to define a set of universal data elements that all domains find useful, such as person descriptors and data that are important to share with more than one domain. The GJXDM has become the basis for the justice domain, preserving the work that was done to negotiate common data meaning across the law enforcement and justice communities of interest.

For the law enforcement community to be assured of an active voice in the decisions made about NIEM, it is important that its key organizations are engaged in the decision-making process. The primary decisions about NIEM data elements and the business interests of the various domains are made by the NIEM Business Architecture Committee. Law enforcement serves on this committee through representation appointed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Law Enforcement Information Technology Standards Council (LEITSC). LEITSC has been actively engaged in the application of the GJXDM to law enforcement, has created and published the Standard Functional Specifications for Law Enforcement Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) Systems and the Standard Functional Specifications for Law Enforcement Record Management Systems (RMS), and aided in the development of several information exchange package documents (IEPDs) that are posted on the LEITSC Web site (www.leitsc.org).

The Global Advisory Committee to the attorney general has been the primary sponsor of the development of the GJXDM and with the aid of the Bureau of Justice Assistance created the Global XML Structure Task Force (XSTF) to make decisions about data. IACP and LEITSC representatives are also members of the XSTF, and IACP participates as a full member in the Global Advisory Committee. A representative of the Global Advisory Committee is also on the NIEM Executive Steering Committee. It has been decided that the governance for the justice domain of NIEM will be owned by the Global Advisory Committee and the XSTF and that these bodies will be represented on the NIEM Business Architecture Committee, thereby assuring law enforcement agencies that their views and needs are addressed in NIEM.


The NIEM Value Premise

First and foremost, adoption of NIEM will radically reduce the cost of building and maintaining interfaces to other systems. The experience to date in the use of the GJXDM has shown that the cost of creating an information exchange can be reduced by up to 75 percent of the cost for manually creating such interfaces. Furthermore, as software providers adopt NIEM in their software products, the potential exists for further cost reductions because the information exchange components built using NIEM are reusable and will eliminate the repetitive costs for multiple similar interfaces. The use of NIEM anticipates the application of Web services and a service-oriented architecture in constructing enterprise computing systems that provide much more agility in responding to changes in needs for information exchanges.

Once an NIEM-based information exchange has been implemented to accomplish a specific interface function, it can be extended to support interfaces with other systems without additional development costs. For example, a police department that creates an NIEM-based exchange with a sheriff’s department could expand the information sharing to other police departments without new software development.

Police incident reports can have as many as 20 separate customers. Once a department develops a Web service conforming to the NIEM standard, many of the customers for this report can take advantage of the same exchange, subject to security and privacy rules, without substantial new development. Since a considerable component of the cost of new software for CAD or RMS is typically consumed in building interfaces one at a time, the potential cost savings by reusing standards-based interfaces is substantial. The LEITSC functional standards for CAD and RMS identified some 40 separate interfaces that should be available in any modern system, and these interfaces are all candidates for NIEM-based information exchange standards.

NIEM also supports and facilitates national information sharing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new National Data Exchange system (N-DEx) used NIEM to create the specification for submitting data to N-DEx. In November 2006 the N-DEx IEPD was registered and posted on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs IEPD Clearinghouse Web site (http://it.ojp.gov/iepd/). Visitors to the Web site can view the complete exchange documentation, including the component mapping template containing the data elements collected by the system; the code tables with the data values for the data elements; and diagrams for the IEPD, schemas, style sheets, and test data. Furthermore, the new information sharing environment (ISE) under development by the federal government calls for NIEM to be the foremost standard for exchanging information between federal agencies and state and local law enforcement through state fusion centers.

Because of the process of building consensus on data standards, NIEM will make it much easier for police agencies to share information with fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and other disciplines, allowing the coordination of responses and service to reach new levels of effectiveness previously made difficult by conflicting terminologies and database variations.


Photograph by Michael Haslip
Photograph by Michael Haslip
NIEM Is Ready for Adoption

The time is right for agencies to begin to adopt NIEM as a basis for information exchanges with other agencies and systems. The reasons are straightforward:

NIEM is in production. The release of NIEM 1.0 on October 30, 2006, follows a long process of development, revision, expansion, and improvement to ensure that NIEM is both accessible and useful. NIEM 1.0 can be downloaded directly from www.niem.gov. In addition to its historical derivation from the Global Justice Data Model, a number of pilot tests of NIEM have been conducted by various federal agencies. Lessons learned from each pilot were fed back to the developers to support the production release of NIEM 1.0.

Documentation and tools are available. The NIEM Web site contains a significant amount of documentation and tools to help agencies and developers build NIEM conformant exchanges. Also, the participating agencies have created a National Information Sharing Standards Knowledge Base and Help Desk where interested parties can browse information and submit questions that will be answered by either the help desk staff or knowledgeable experts in the use of NIEM. The knowledge base and help desk are available at http://it.ojp.gov/gjxdm/helpdesk/.

Training and technical assistance are available. Executive training and developer courses are being taught around the nation in the practical implementation of NIEM. Grants have been given to service providers to help state and local agencies implement information sharing practices using the combination of NIEM and GJXDM.

There is a release plan in place. The next release of NIEM, code-named Harmony, will be delivered in the first half of 2007. It will add to the improvements already introduced in release 1.0: the structure of the Harmony release will build on what is already in place particularly with respect to name spaces, so that the migration to this new release will not be troublesome. Further, the NIEM Program Management Office is already at work considering the functionality of the next release beyond Harmony.

Special conditions on grants mandate NIEM conformance. Grants made from DOJ and DHS in the future will incorporate special conditions that require grantees to develop information exchanges in conformance with NIEM and to submit sample reference documentation to the central clearinghouse to facilitate reuse.


What Chiefs Can Do Now

If you conclude that this is the time to ensure your agency’s capacity to effectively share information, or if you contemplate an upgrade to your technology in the near future, this may be the time to get started with the adoption of NIEM. Some suggestions for you to consider:

  1. Visit www.niem.gov and peruse the executive briefing and concept of operations to become familiar with the executive issues to be addressed. Ensure that your technologists are equally informed about the role and purpose of NIEM and support their efforts to learn more.

  2. Establish a policy that all new or replacement systems will conform to NIEM, reflecting this policy in internal directives for development and in requests for proposals.

  3. Send staff members to the practical implementation course to help them understand the use and construction of NIEM.

  4. Ask for technical assistance to plan your roadmap for NIEM adoption.

NIEM will continue to evolve and add capabilities to make the model more supportive of information exchanges of all types. The need for law enforcement to share information with other public safety organizations, health services, schools, and transportation, just to name a few, will drive this interdisciplinary exchange model to expand into these other domains. As more disciplines are incorporated into NIEM, there will be an increased capacity for information sharing throughout the nation.

NIEM is rapidly gaining acceptance at local, state, and federal levels, and it offers the promise of fulfilling the need to have a common understanding of information across many domains as a basis for information sharing and interoperability. The full value of NIEM will be realized as adoption and use become widespread throughout the country. This is a national imperative. ■


Editor’s note: Mike Haslip is the chief of police in Blaine, Washington, and a member of the IACP Criminal Justice Information Systems Committee. He represents the IACP on the LEITSC, the GJXDM XSTF, and the NIEM Business Architecture Committee. He can be reached at (mhaslip@cityofblaine.com). Paul Wormeli is chairman of the NIEM Communications and Outreach Committee and executive director of the IJIS Institute. He can be reached at (paul.wormeli@ijis.org). He maintains a blog on disruptive technology in justice and public safety at http://radio.weblogs.com/0126029/.


LEITSC is a consortium of the IACP, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Police Executive Research Forum.

An IEPD is a collection of artifacts that describe the structure and content of an Information Exchange Package. It does not specify other interface layers (such as Web services). It can optionally be prefixed with “GJXDM” to indicate or highlight that a resulting IEP conforms with GJXDM (GJXDM XML Structure Task Force, “GJXDM Information Exchange Package Documentation Guidelines, Version 1.1,” March 2, 2005,www.it.ojp.gov/documents/global_jxdm_information_exchange_package_documentation_guidelines_v1_1.doc, February, 27, 2007.

The ISE was created to change the information culture of U.S. government with respect to terrorism from one of “need to know” to “need to share.” ISE is not another new database or information system. Rather, it is a managed collaboration of the policies, processes, and technologies essential to the effective sharing of terrorism-related information. Its creation was mandated by Congress in December 2004 through the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. The ISE Implementation Plan issued in November 2006 provides for the publishing of information sharing standards for non-federal government agencies as recommendations and identifies the use of NIEM as the means for ensuring that state, local, and tribal agencies can connect to their federal partners in ISE. The ISE Program Management Office in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is supported by the federal agency members of its Information Sharing Council, which in turn maintains a standing local, state, and tribal law enforcement subcommittee (www.ise.gov).

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From The Police Chief, vol. 74, no. 4, April 2007. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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