MAIT - Multi-Agency Incident Data Transfer

MAIT - Multi-Agency Incident data Transfer
Direct Electronic Incident Transfer was renamed as MAIT to reflect that the protocol had been developed further to cater for other types of data exchange. The driver is to deliver quick, reliable information exchange between control rooms and call handling centres, saving time and providing a clear understanding of the assistance required to resolve an incident. The business case for MAIT is currently being written up and roll out of the first MAIT project is envisaged to take place within a year. B-APCO has taken a central role in writing the specification for the MAIT hub.

MAIT Position Paper

Autumn 2015

Introduction

This paper has been written to provide a general overview of the work done to date on the electronic Multi-Agency Incident/Information Transfer standard, highlighting some of the issues, and providing recommendations for future activity. For historical context please refer to the previous paper (DEIT to MAIT) which can be found by clicking here.

Work to date

Whilst the original request from the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to British APCO was to develop a technical open standard for incident data transfer, it soon became clear that to be successfully adopted, the programme had to take a much broader outlook.

Developing a technical standard and putting it through due process to attain open standard status has been relatively simple. Ensuring the standard is used and applied consistently is a separate and far more challenging issue.

The technical standard was developed as an ‘XML schema’. Whilst this may not have been the ideal format, it was chosen because of the existence of a previous schema (DEIT – Direct Electronic Incident Transfer). DEIT had been adopted by the Police Service as a tool to exchange incident data with the Highways Agency. Latterly it has been used for the same purpose to connect each Force to the National Police Air Support Service. Additionally, there are a number of other ad hoc DEIT interfaces between agencies (e.g. London Ambulance Service and the Metropolitan Police). The DEIT schema was a proprietary standard (owned by Capita) and had reached version 1(c) in terms of deployment between end systems. Capita kindly agreed to relinquish ownership for all future versions to HM Government.

Version 1(d) of DEIT has been developed into Version 1.0 of MAIT. This will enable backwards compatibility between MAIT and the latest version of DEIT. This was the main rationale for choosing the XML schema format for MAIT.

The DEIT interfaces had all been installed as ‘Point to Point’ connections. The Welsh pilot scheme used the National Resilience Extranet ‘hub’ (router) to enable a single ‘plug in’ by each participating agency to exchange data. This enabled the technical architecture to be less complex and more cost effective. The MAIT programme has continued to support the principle of agencies plugging once into a router - to allow connection to any other agency that is part of the scheme.

The technical standard was developed by a core team made up from the Commercial Sector, Emergency Services and Government Departments. Led by British APCO, the work has all been done on a voluntary basis, and for most, on top of ever-demanding day to day roles. The Cabinet Office has taken the lead in putting MAIT through the Government Open Standards process. At the time of this report, the process continues and it is likely that the MAIT standard will be formally adopted by the end of 2015.

MAIT allows information (currently incident data) to be passed between agencies with the data being populated directly into end systems (generally Command and Control). For a number of reasons, the content of the information is one of the biggest challenges, so for MAIT version 1.0 this has purposely been kept very simple:-

  • data exchange only between the four emergency services
  • basic incident information only e.g. location, caller details, incident type, vehicle details andbasic questions about injuries where appropriate

As agencies begin to become more willing to share data, and less bespoke in their individual requirements, it is intended that future versions of MAIT will allow greater information to be transferred. It should also enable an expansion of agencies that can be involved in the scheme, to include non-emergency public safety responders, as well as commercial entities and the voluntary sector where appropriate. (This is already beginning to happen in some places such as Wales). Information Assurance/Security remains one of the key barriers for data exchange between agencies. Up to this point organisations involved have had similar levels of security - or at least mutual trust. This is not universal across the potential wider users of MAIT and needs to be addressed. Some guidance may need to be produced at a national level to curb the excesses of over-zealous local information security professional

The main issue with MAIT throughout its whole development has been the lack of strategic ownership. Whilst instigated by the Cabinet Office, MAIT is clearly a tool for day-to-day operations of public safety agencies. To this end, it is not really something that falls within a Cabinet Office remit, albeit the Government Digital Services (and the associated open standards) sits within the department.

British APCO has been attempting to find an agency, government department or other group or body that is prepared to take a strategic lead for this work. Whilst it was hoped that JESIP might do this, this did not come to fruition, and no other department or agency has seemed able or willing to take the lead.

Latterly however, the Emergency Services Collaboration Working Group has been established. This Group has recognised the significance of MAIT and what it could bring to public safety in terms of operational effectiveness and cost saving. Following a report submitted to the ESCWG in November 2014, a formal statement of support was provided for MAIT, but the future of the Group was uncertain due to the 2015 UK election. It has since been awarded funding to continue up to October 2015 and it is hoped that funding will continue in some form on a more permanent basis. In July 2015, the ESCWG agreed to take strategic leadership for MAIT. Whilst this has not provided any tangible support for the ongoing development of the standard or its operational implementation, it has at least provided a body which can steer work in the future. It is hoped that ESCWG (potentially through JESIP) will be in a position to influence the UK emergency services into adopting MAIT so that electronic data exchange becomes widely used by simply ‘plugging in’ to a router.

The use of routers (hubs) for data exchange has been one of the underlying principles of the MAIT programme. The proof of concept of this as the right way forward was powerful on many levels: operational benefits, cost savings, development of Information Sharing Protocols (ISPs) and cultural shift. The added benefit will undoubtedly be to the external customer, albeit this has not been measured or reported on in any depth to this point.

In principle, the number of routers required for the UK can be kept to an optimum level that caters for demand. At this stage there are two routers that will potentially be awarded MAIT certification; one supporting the work in Wales and another used by the Blue Light Collaboration in Surrey. Wales and Surrey have been working together, and the intention is to connect the two routers to provide mutual resilience. Both routers have been procured by the individual projects through separate funding streams. Without some central coordination, there is a strong likelihood that agencies will simply procure ‘MAIT’ routers on an ad hoc basis. The view of the MAIT team is that this is unnecessary both in terms of the requirements, but also the potential waste of time and money. A central strategy, (potentially with funding) for routers would enable agencies to plug in as future end systems became MAIT compliant. The Maritime and Coast Guard Agency are intending to provide a further two routers and have offered for these to form part of the national infrastructure, including testing and hosting. With Surrey and Wales (assuming inclusion in the wider infrastructure) this should provide a sufficient environment for the early adopters of MAIT.

A further issue has been to develop a process that ensures the MAIT standard is both complied with and developed. Historically, there have been instances where an open standard has been agreed, but either never taken up operationally, or delivered in a number of different variations. A good example is GD-92 which is widely used in the Fire Service to provide boundary transparent data communications for interoperability of mobilising systems. Whilst it has served the Service well, it demonstrates what happens when no responsibility is taken for the long-term development and maintenance of a standard. GD-92 has not kept pace with operational and technical developments, which has resulted in ‘tweaks’ being made on a case-by-case basis. It has reached a point where it is rapidly losing its original function. The experience of GD-92 highlights the need to not make the same mistake with MAIT (and ONAT – see later). Historically, the result of not coordinating open standards, has been the development of commercial proprietary standards (such as DEIT). Whilst this may have been financially beneficial, all of the vendors involved with MAIT agree that use of open standards is the right way forward and have therefore supported its development.

To this end, a certification process is being developed. This will eventually include testing for end systems and routers. Initial work is to address certification for end systems. The proposal is for British APCO to take the lead for certification of MAIT in the UK. It is believed that the scheme can ultimately become financially sustainable through certification fees paid by vendors. As development of the standard needs to be user-led to deliver meaningful data exchange, B-APCO is ideally suited to coordinate both the certification process and future versions of MAIT.

A similar certification process will be developed for MAIT routers, which in the early stages will likely mean retrospective assessment of existing routers in Wales, Surrey (and soon MGCA). Future routers would ideally be certified prior to installation.

A website has been set up by British APCO (www.mait.org.uk) which is a repository for the relevant information and discussion in relation to MAIT.

It is proposed that once MAIT v 1.0 is formally adopted as an open standard, time is given for it to become embedded within the emergency services. Minor amendments to adjust the technical or operational requirements can be made without a requirement for the end systems or routers to be upgraded. MAIT v.2.0 would be developed to enable broader information exchange across more agencies, and may not use the same technical architecture (i.e. XML). With some forward planning and discussion, this would enable alignment with other areas such as the NHS 111 and UK Alert.

Throughout the work of the MAIT programme British APCO has been actively engaging with any organisation or body that may have an interest in MAIT in terms of future operational requirements. This has brought additional representation onto the core team, as well as highlighted a number of other areas of work and issues that are ongoing and related to MAIT. This includes: -

  • 111 – The Health Service transfers data electronically between its 111 Call Centres and the Emergency Operations Centres. This uses a different technical architecture and there is recognition that there needs to be some form of dovetailing with MAIT in the future.
  • EOC to EOC – AACE has placed a requirement for each ambulance trust to ensure its EOC(s) can transfer information electronically to all the others in the UK. Mainly through lack of funding, this has not happened, and it is feasible that early engagement with the MAIT programme could provide some initial data transfer (albeit not fully supporting Ambulance services needs yet).
  • 999 – The development of 999 certified mobile apps, third party vehicle telematics and the EU requirement for eCall will each require data transfer to the Emergency Services. Ideally the data format should align to the MAIT standard, so that receipt and ongoing transfer can be simplified.
  • ONAT (Overt National Asset Tracking) - A parallel piece of work has been running (instigated by Emergency Service users and led by the Home Office). This group is developing a national open standard for tracking assets (vehicles and people). This would enable agencies to see each others’ resources on a map. This clearly complements the MAIT standard as it goes hand in hand with incident management. ONAT is at a point where the Home Office is likely to relinquish its lead position. The proposal is for British APCO to take a similar coordination role to align with the MAIT work, and for ESCWG to take the strategic overview.
  • UK Alert – The Cabinet Office have sponsored use of different technical standard (CAP - Common Alerting Protocol) which will enable public alerting in times of crisis. As information is cyclical in terms of being passed from public to agency, agency to agency and agency to public, there is merit in investigating how the UK alerting standard and MAIT could be aligned in the future.
  • PSN – the MAIT infrastructure will need to fit within the PSN framework and this will be explored as routers are delivered and agencies begin to plug in.
  • ESN – there is potentially discussion required as to whether MAIT would be useful within any of the ESN infrastructure. Nothing has been progressed in this area to date.
  • PSIIF – The Public Sector Internal Identity Federation – development of this was sponsored by the Cabinet Office with an aim to enabling public sector agents to authenticate identity. This clearly has potential to align with the MAIT data exchange. It is not known whether this programme is still in place, but if so, it is worthy of further investigation.
  • GD92 – The Fire Service has been having discussions as to the state of play with GD92 and its future. There have been no formal discussions as to how or whether there is a link with MAIT – but this potentially needs to be considered.
  • Other agencies – A road map will be required to include other agencies such as Local Authorities, Highways Agency, Environment Agency, Transport for London etc.
  • MOD – The MOD has been involved with the MAIT programme. This was mainly because they are at a stage of considering the future of electronic information exchange and have a number of options. They do not view MAIT as a robust programme to deliver information exchange, which is understandable due to the current way it is being delivered. There may be a requirement for engagement at a later stage, but on a day to day basis the MOD and Emergency Services do not have a requirement to exchange data to any great extent. MOD remain part of the core group to keep a watching brief – and intend to explore ONAT as a potentially useful tool for data exchange in relation to mobile resources.

Recommendations

In order for MAIT to be successfully delivered as a UK open standard, it is imperative that it is used by the relevant agencies as the generic standard, and that routers and end systems are certified to ensure that the they all conform appropriately to the stated standard. In view of this there will be a number of recommendations that will be required to ensure MAIT succeeds in the future: -

Governance:Existence of a lead body (ESCWG at this time) that can guide strategic direction and ensure agencies are engaging with MAIT in terms of using the standard for end systems and plugging into existing routers in line with a national strategy, rather than procuring additional ones.

Certification:That British APCO becomes the certification body for MAIT (and potentially ONAT) compliance of end systems and routers. This should be feasible on a sustainable self-funding basis from vendor fees. As a not-for-profit organisation and with more potential vendors requiring MAIT certification becoming involved, costs can be kept to a reasonable level.

Routers:That agencies potentially pay an annual fee for connection to a MAIT router. These costs would also be kept to a reasonable level, as there would be an optimal number of routers and most would be hosted within existing agencies (e.g. MGCA). Fees would cover costs and would therefore be reduced by more agencies becoming involved.

Funding:If funding were made available, the development and coordination of MAIT would be enhanced by the presence of a paid coordinator (as has been the case in Wales). The long-terms costs savings to agencies would significantly outstrip the shorter term cost of a resource. (Welsh and Surrey business cases both support the potential financial savings).If funding is not forthcoming, then a resource would still ideally be put in place, but with funding from the Certification Scheme. Although this is a feasible business model, it will take some time before a resource can be employed as no ‘up-front’ funding is available.

StandardThe MAIT standard will need continuous development. As it is designed to enable information sharing between agencies, it should be led by operational users. Experience has shown that agreeing information sharing protocols is complicated even within a single agency; doing so across multi-disciplinary agencies is extremely challenging, but if it can be achieved step-by-step, MAIT will succeed as both a standard and a vision. Thus far B-APCO has taken the lead in coordinating MAIT, and feasibly could continue to do so in the future by organising User Groups to establish the information sharing requirements to be translated into the technical standard.

In summary, the vision for MAIT is to enable information sharing between agencies in a secure, timely and appropriate manner. There are many steps that need to be taken to enable this to happen, but the MAIT team members believe that with a shared vision of what MAIT could deliver, agencies can work incrementally to becoming part of it.

Sue Lampard

Past President British APCO