Geospatial Enhancement for NIEM Effort (Geo4NIEM)

Business woman drawing

Geo4NIEM is a collaborative public-private partnership between the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) Program Management Office (PMO), Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Department of Homeland Security and the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE).  NIEM is a common vocabulary that enables efficient information exchange across diverse public and private organizations. NIEM can save time and money by providing consistent, reusable data terms and definitions and repeatable processes. The Geo4NIEM collaborative approach enhances NIEM’s geospatial exchange capabilities.

Geo4NIEM establishes guidance to create NIEM content and leverage it in map-based environments, using the OGC industry standards, rather than requiring costly development of redundant data objects for the NIEM community. Geo4NIEM’s goal is to demonstrate and provide enterprise NIEM-conformant content in a map visualization context:

With the appropriate security markings and access controls to ensure the right people have access to the right information at the right time in the right context
That can be reused across the public and private sector
Promoting cost-savings (through use of NIEM and OGC community open standards)

Why is it needed?
Geospatial information technologies are increasingly a foundation for supporting homeland security, law enforcement, emergency management, and public safety missions in the U.S. While these technologies rely upon much of the same data, they are typically developed in silos within a specific mission area. As a result, data duplication and data exchange delays occur. However, mission partners could benefit from shared access to the common operating data and services used within these geospatial systems if they were exposed and exchanged in open standards. Although to promote shared access, there exists a need for security markings and access controls. Hence the need for enhancing NIEM’s geospatial exchange capabilities in order to significantly improve inter-government information sharing of this critical data source.

What has it accomplished?

The original Geo4NIEM pilot in 2013, Geo4NIEM Part 1, was sponsored by PMISE and DHS and conducted as a collaborative, hands-on rapid prototype development and testing initiative in accordance with the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)’s Interoperability Program. The partnership included NGA, Department of Defense (DoD), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Army Geospatial Center and numerous participants and supporters from the public and private sector. The Geo4NIEM Part 1 pilot met the following objectives:  

  • Develop recommendations for the inclusion and standard use of embedded geography markup language (GML) with NIEM Information Exchange Package Documentations (IEPDs).
  • Develop recommendations for the standardized use of Naming and Design Rules (NDRs) and the use of adaptors (e.g., NIEM wrapper for GML).
  • Test and demonstrate use of a standardized embedded GML and adaptors within NIEM IEPDs.
  • Develop architecture documentation and “Fact Sheet” for the use of embedded GML and adaptors for use with NIEM IEPDs.
  • Develop recommendations for the inclusion of a Geospatial Domain within NIEM.

Furthermore, the Geo4NIEM Part 1 pilot covered two use cases:

  1. Requests for information from multiple agencies and NIEM GML from mobile field units operating in an incident area through their mobile devices.
  2. Use of NIEM exchanges to share information on vessels, people, cargo, and maritime locations across organizations that would otherwise have limited communications ability.

Geo4NIEM Part 1 – Findings and Impact to NIEM 3.0
The Geo4NIEM Part 1 initiative affirmed that NIEM information exchange packages (IEPs) can include GML-based data components, and that GML documents can include NIEM-based data components. It culminated in a demonstration of how enhanced geospatial capabilities enable situational awareness through the ability to identify, process, and comprehend critical information during an incident. More information and videos of the demonstration can be found here.

The Geo4NIEM initiative provided eight recommendations (specific to GML adapters in NIEM) for consideration in the NIEM 3.0 update. Seven recommendations were implemented; one recommendation had no impact on the model itself. Overall, no significant changes were recommended to the NIEM technical architecture. An engineering report summarizing the findings and recommendations of the Geo4NIEM initiative was published in November of 2013. You can read more about the findings and download the engineering report.

Geo4NIEM Part 2
A second initiative concludes in 2015, Geo4NIEM Part 2, which was one of four threads in OGC’s Testbed-11, a scenario-based test and demonstration of Geo4NIEM work. Geo4NIEM Part 2 focused on enhancing NIEM’s geospatial exchange capabilities to include Intelligence Community (IC) data encoding specifications, along with OASIS standards to enable granular data object level

access authorization and/or denial aligned to OCG web services. This second initiative included the following tasks:

  1. Assess support in NIEM for Intelligence Community (IC) security specifications (Information Security Marking (ISM), Need to Know (NTK), Trusted Data Format (TDF)).
  2. Demonstrate secure information exchange using architecture from task 1.
  3. Assess NIEM and GML support for geospatial data exchange from NIEM-based client to GML-based client and back (round-trip); recommend a round-trip architecture.
  4. Demonstrate round-trip geospatial data exchange using the architecture from task 3.
  5. Demonstrate OGC Web Feature Service (WFS) on GML feature representations with embedded NIEM components.
  6. Analysis/study to reach consistent security approach across the OGC suite of service standards.

The Geo4NIEM Part 2 Testbed produced the following findings, which were shared during the OGC meetings held during June 2015:

  • With reasonable effort it is possible to combine NIEM, IC security specifications, OGC Web Service components and GML-aware clients to support information exchange with authorized users.

This is a huge step forward toward enabling first responders, law enforcement, emergency management, military support and the intelligence community to collaborate real time without compromising access controls. 

Access control engines can work with NIEM/IC data encoding, with or without a services framework.

  • Implementing such a data exchange requires extra work, compared to a typical exchange of features that conform to the GML Simple Features profile.

This level of effort is not greater than encodings already in OGC, where a community of interest has defined a standard GML application schema for exchanging geographic data.

  • Careful IEPD design can simplify the exchange implementation, reducing the technical overhead required to broadly implement secure information exchanges and emerging collaborative partnerships.

An engineering report summarizing the findings and recommendations of Geo4NIEM Part 2 is in the final review stages prior to publication. Once it has been published, you can download it to read more about the findings. 

What’s Next?

The following recommended focus areas are under consideration for potential future Geo4NIEM work, should there be resources available to continue on with the initiative:

  • Tools and best practices for exposing NIEM IEPs through the OGC Web Feature Service (WFS) interface

Includes making IEPD schemas available via WFS

  • Tools and best practices for expressing and enforcing access control policy in terms of IC security metadata
  • Best practice for simplified IEPDs

Location and time core elements in GML Simple Features profile
Model similar to Cursor-on-Target (CoT)