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Features are the key capabilities of the Environmental Public Health Tracking Network that deliver benefits to the users. These features provide a fundamental basis for defining the EPHT Network so that the process of building the network can begin. Features described in the following sections were collected during discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders from many different organizations, including some of the stakeholders listed in Section 3.1. These discussions included regular conference calls with the Standards and Network Development Workgroup (SND) and the Network Architecture Subgroup (NASG), concurrent sessions at the Kickoff meeting in February 2003, and the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH) pre-conference meeting in December 2003. The features do not include support processes, such as systems administration, systems engineering, or programming.
The primary feature of the EPHT Network is that it allows access to a variety of environmental and public health data that are distributed in widely dispersed databases and repositories. The Network will provide access to both “linkable” and “linked” data and will also support the two-way exchange of data between partners.
Some data available through the EPHT Network will be stored at a central physical location. The Network will provide expandability to access new data sources as they become available. Data available in the Network will be accessible in standard formats, and data of varying vintage (e.g., historic, trends, “real-time”) will be accessible in the EPHT Network.
The Network will provide various levels of access to users depending on their role and purpose. Access to data will be granted by the data provider, with different rights of access possible. Access to data will be granted to the maximum extent possible, considering confidentiality, legality, and technical feasibility. Some data sets will be accessible without constraint, but other data sets will be accessible using tools such as a Trading Partner Agreements (TPA) to specify details of access. Components of TPAs will be implemented through technology to manage access to and use of data sets (e.g., set security levels). The EPHT Network will provide the capability to facilitate and manage electronic TPAs and provide an authentication process when data are requested. Data owners will have the ability to restrict the release of data because of reliability or privacy concerns.
The EPHT Network will provide access to national, state, regional, and local data. Metadata are required for all data sets that will be available through the EPHT Network, and metadata will consist of a standard set of elements. Metadata will be presented in a manner to allow easy searching and discovery of data (e.g., through the use of key words).
The EPHT Network will enable the systematic linking of health effects, exposures, and/or hazard datasets. This will consist of standardized protocols, methodologies, and toolsets that are generic and flexible enough to account for varying linkage scenarios on datasets that are distributed across the Network. Network users can use these tools to link data on an ad-hoc or ongoing basis, based on data access conditions described in Section 5.1. Linkages will take into account text-based, spatial, and temporal attributes.
Visualization, Reporting, and Analysis
The EPHT Network will support the means to generate visual displays of data (e.g., maps, charts, tables, and graphs), to perform pre-defined routine types of analyses, and to assess data quality. The Network will also provide the capability that allows users to download data to perform more complex analysis using external statistical, analytic, and visualization (e.g., Geographic Information System [GIS]) tools.
The Network will provide the capability to disseminate information in various formats, including standardized reports, web-based query results, emails, and alerts. It will expand on the functionality provided through PHIN to provide a configurable method that will trigger an alert when a pre-determined parameter exceeds a given threshold. The Network will monitor continuously to determine whether a pre-defined alert state has occurred. If so, an alert or notification will be issued using a various techniques, including electronic mail, electronic paging, manual telephony, and automated voice-synthesized telephony. The Network will also have the capability of either sending or receiving data. A communications planning effort by the EHT Branch is identifying the information needs of potential users to determine how to package the data for a various audiences (e.g. summary tables, graphs, interpretation of trends, or web design).
To determine patterns of use, the EPHT Network will also provide a means for monitoring queries and database access. This could be used in a various ways, such as providing statistical information on network usage (e.g., the most accessed databases), suggesting the creation of new reports, or keeping track of past queries that users have run so that they can be run again.
IT Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection
The EPHT Network will provide the necessary security and protection to ensure, as required by PHIN specifications, that sensitive or critical data and systems are not lost, destroyed, corrupted, or misappropriated.