I n his book “Winning Modern Wars,” retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark writes, “Defeating terrorism is more difficult and far-reaching than we have assumed. ... We may be advancing the ball down the field at will, running over our opponent’s defenses, but winning the game is another matter altogether.”
The “field” described by Clark is the entire planet—a lot of geography—and “winning the game” requires a complex playbook of actionable geospatial intelligence along with the ability to rapidly respond to threats or events. Geospatial technologies are at the heart of this effort to acquire more knowledge more quickly.
Geospatial technologies offer accurate, up-to-date information that supports the decision-making process, especially during events where time is the most critical factor. Armed with such information, response teams can assess individual situations with speed and act in the most effective way upon arriving at the scene. This is the real power that geospatial technologies provide—a common visual language across many disciplines.
Addressing Age-Old Needs with Modern Tools
Susan Kalweit, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, reminds us that in 1804, President Thomas Jefferson needed to know about the terrain, natural resources and inhabitants of the land acquired in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. He sent Lewis and Clark on a mapping and intelligence mission to explore the Missouri River and possible navigable commercial routes to the Pacific Ocean.
Lewis and Clark relied on boats, horses and a lot of footwork, traveling thousands of miles during the following three years. They gathered invaluable geospatial intelligence on the features, flora, fauna and native people they encountered. Their data, maps and insights enabled settlement of what would become the American West.
Today’s sophisticated aerial and space-borne platforms, with their cutting-edge sensors, along with mobile Internet capabilities and lightning-quick digital information processing systems, have revolutionized how data are gathered and presented to users. But the basic needs in the era of the Obama administration really are no different than during Jefferson’s tenure—just more complex.
No Room for Complacency
More than 10 years after 9/11, the world can seem like a much safer place. After all, haven’t we eliminated Osama bin Laden and most his thugs? But just because nobody has crashed an airplane into one of our skyscrapers lately doesn’t mean it’s time to relax. Effective homeland security involves much more than protecting ourselves against blatant acts of aggression.
Emerging security issues such as global climate change and the resultant drought, water scarcity and food shortages require that we become ever more vigilant by using every means available, especially geospatial analysis. This capability enables us to forecast where and when potential disasters might occur, develop mitigation strategies and design plans for adapting to coming changes.
We still have a long way to go in terms of geospatial preparedness for a homeland security incident or a natural disaster such as a hurricane, flood, wildfire, earthquake or tornado. Not that long ago, during the horrific hours following 9/11, the best geospatial information available to first responders at the World Trade Center site were digitized copies of tourist maps. Now we can certainly do much better than that.
— Jeff Specht, publisher, Earth Imaging Journal