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Subject: Re: [emergency-rim] The value of "Unknown" for Urgency, Severity, Certainty in CAP and Elsewhere

Thanks Art,

Well, darn it.

We'll figure something out to make sure we get your take on these issues.


On 2/8/2013 12:02 PM, Art Botterell wrote:
Thanks, Rex -

Unfortunately I'm on a National Academies panel (on geotargeting alert
delivery) all day the 21st and 22nd so my schedule those days won't be
my own.

- Art

On Fri, Feb 8, 2013 at 11:46 AM, Rex Brooks <rex.brooks@ncoic.org> wrote:
Thanks Art,

It is good to be reminded about the issues considered and decisions taken in
previously work on the USC issues.

Would it be possible for you to join us on the next RIM call on the 21st at
12:00 p.m. Eastern?

We are considering putting the the USC elements into the CommonTypes
collection to be used consistently by any new or future versions of


  On 2/7/2013 1:35 PM, Art Botterell wrote:
Definitely agree, Eliot... we don't want to impose a few users' bad
practices on everyone.

My sense is that some folks get confused by the fact that in each of
the USC 5-level codings the first four values represent levels on a
continuum, while the fifth ("unknown") really isn't a level at all,
but indicates a lack of knowledge.

The underlying philosophy was that the alert format should never
require the author to lie.  It was deemed better to enable alert
originators frankly to admit that they didn't know something than to
force them to make up pseudo-information... or else worse, to withhold
or delay a warning while they tried to perfect their knowledge.

Of course it might be argued... and in fact it was, very early on...
that a semantically purer way to deal with this might be to give each
of the USC elements just four levels and make them optional, with no
instance being equivalent to "unknown".  But that was viewed as an
invitation for lazy implementers and/or originators to sidestep
specifying USC values at all, which would break a lot of content-based
decisions downstream about which particular delivery mechanisms
(sirens, EAS, etc.) should be used to disseminate a given alert.

So we went with what appeared the lesser of two evils. We made the USC
elements mandatory, while still empowering folks to admit explicitly
that they don't actually know the correct value if that's the case.

While I'll acknowledge that some folks seem to have difficulty
accepting that "unknown" means exactly what it says, I'd recommend
educating them in preference to imposing their error on everyone else.

- Art

On Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 12:21 PM, Eliot Christian <echristian@usgs.gov>
Perhaps it would be useful to just add a caution against some
common misuses of the value "unknown". Here's some text to
consider: "For a value coded as 'unknown' there is no basis to
treat it as having a minimal, a maximal, or any other value".


At 02:56 PM 2/7/2013, Doug Allport wrote:

Rex et al

In CAP 1.2 we added "to no known" to the statement associated with CAP
Severity Minor; it now reads "Minimal to no known threat to life or
property". I believe we have a clear value for "insignificant".

I look at the use of "unknown" as A. Lazy or B. Managing issuer risk, as
may be easier to defend the ongoing practice of using unknown than it is
stated value that proves to be less or greater than it should have been.
we are to add a value, we might need "Not willing to state one".

My two cents…


From: Rex Brooks <rex.brooks@ncoic.org>
Reply-To: "rex.brooks@ncoic.org " <rex.brooks@ncoic.org>
Date: Thursday, 7 February, 2013 1:04 PM
To: " emergency-rim@lists.oasis-open.org" <
emergency-rim@lists.oasis-open.org>, " art.botterell@west.cmu.edu" <
art.botterell@west.cmu.edu>, Jake Westfall <jake@jpw.biz>, "Christian,
Eliot" <echristi@usgs.gov>, Elysa Jones <ElysaJones@yahoo.com>
Subject: [emergency-rim] The value of "Unknown" for Urgency, Severity,
Certainty in CAP and Elsewhere

Hi Everyone,

In today's EM RIM meeting we discussed the issue of how the value of
"Unkown" for Urgency, Severity and Certainty is commonly taken, how the
weather service uses it and how it is viewed by other domains in
Emergency Management. We are thinking of changing it or defining it more
emphatically or removing it in favor of other value terms which might be
better understood.

So we are asking your opinions on and experience in this.

Best Regards,

Rex Brooks
1361-A Addison
Berkeley, CA 94702
Phone: 510-898-0670

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Rex Brooks
1361-A Addison
Berkeley, CA 94702
Phone: 510-898-0670

Rex Brooks
1361-A Addison
Berkeley, CA 94702
Phone: 510-898-0670

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