The CAP: What, Why and How
You can think of this as a mini-FAQ covering three basic questions about the CAP: "What is it?", "Why do we need it?" and "How can we get there?"
What is it?
The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is an open, non-proprietary standard data interchange format that can be used to collect all types of hazard warnings and reports locally, regionally and nationally, for input into a wide range of information-management and warning dissemination systems.
This project acts on several of the recommendations of the "Effective Disaster Warnings" report issued in November, 2000 by the Working Group on Natural Disaster Information Systems, Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction. It also draws on various earlier professional discussions such as the recurring "Common Alerting Protocol" thread in the Networks in Emergency Management e-mail forum during the 1990s.
Why do we need it?
Warning systems in the United States today are a chaotic patchwork of technologies and procedures. Not only is there no coordination, there's no mechanism for coordination.
Existing nationwide systems are limited in scope both by their technological legacies and by the organizational mandates and priorities of their sponsoring agencies. In particular, none of the existing national systems are entirely suited to the needs of state, local and private emergency-information programs. As a result, dozens of different technical and operational warning systems have sprouted, seemingly at random, throughout the nation.
The Common Alerting Protocol will benefit a) the public, b) public agencies and private concerns (such as industrial plant operators) with warning responsibilities, and c) developers of new sensor, threat-evaluation and warning-dissemination technologies:
During 2001 and 2002 the ad-hoc Working Group of more than 130 emergency-management practitioners, technologists and academic experts developed and refined a draft specification for the CAP alert message.
In 2003 the national non-profit Partnership for Public Warning endorsed the CAP effort and sponsored its submission to the OASIS XML standards process.
The OASIS Emergency Management XML Technical Committee has accepted the contribution of the CAP draft standard and is now conducting a rigorous technical and operational review and refinement of the design in its Notification Methods and Messages Subcommittee.