New portal instantly shares information between Government of Canada Operations Centres

What is Situational Awareness in Emergency and Security Management?

September 24, 2014

Collaboration between different Government of Canada departments during significant events and emergencies is critical. As a situation unfolds, departments must be able to quickly track and manage information to help protect Canadians. In order to respond effectively, accurate information about the event must be shared between all affected departments. Sometimes, it’s difficult to coordinate the response because organizations have different systems and processes.

It was these challenges that drove the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), which is led by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science, to join forces with the Government Operations Centre (GOC), which is housed in Public Safety Canada, to look for solutions. By working together, they were able to develop the Operations Centre Information Portal (OCIP): a highly effective, high-resiliency system that enhances the GOCs ability to share data immediately across federal operations centres.

The ability to share information more easily contributes to improved situational awareness, risk assessment, collaborative planning and coordination for all types of events affecting Canadians at home and abroad. These range from a local fire department responding to a forest fire, to special security arrangements for visits from international dignitaries.

  “Typically, a major incident would result in hundreds of emails and files being sent between centres. So, the portal was created with the purpose of organizing incoming information and readily sharing what’s relevant with many operations centres at the click of a mouse,”  shared Chantal Bertrand, a Senior Watch Officer who works in the GOC.  “The portal’s custom-designed tools make it a huge breakthrough.” 

The portal is also highly interactive. It gives users the ability to share documents quickly, track ongoing events, and issue notices about incidents of interest. It also has a number of collaborative custom-built features such as a chat tool, a Request for Information tracker, and an incident management log to categorize incoming alerts.

One of the most impressive features of the portal is a mapping tool connected to the Multi-Agency Situational Awareness System (MASAS). Also developed through the CSSP, MASAS connects different departments’ computer systems. This allows emergency management organizations and first responders to exchange real-time information and alerts which are displayed on a map.

When the CSSP and the GOC teamed up in 2011 to develop the portal, there was a growing interest in the initiative. A number of departments worked together to create a portal that was ready for testing. Fast forward three years and OCIP is now live and used daily. Initially, only a few key federal departments were using the tool. This has since blossomed to an impressive membership of 21 federal departments and agencies, with more likely to join in the next year.

 “Compared to some scenarios in the past where operations centres were alerted about incidents around the same time the reports appeared on the local news, this sort of instant inter-agency information sharing through the portal provides an opportunity for event managers to be at the front of the line,” explained Chantal Bertrand .

While the portal continues to evolve, it is already a powerful tool. More recently, an ‘automatic messaging’ feature was added which allows alerts to be sent to offline operations centres users when a request for information is posted.

 The portal has already significantly improved Canada’s ability to manage events, but there remains room for progress. Federal agencies using the portal are currently looking at how it could be used in their regional offices. The use of common data standards in OCIP will allow for continued growth in the future.

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