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FCW : March 15, 2014
20 March 15, 2014 FCW.COM Geodata The importance of context Not surprisingly, the intelligence com- munity is at the forefront of geospa- tial technology and mapping, led by NGA. The agency is in the early stages of building its Map of the World, an internal platform for all the geo-intel- ligence and multisource content the agency collects for the intelligence community (see Page 16). At a geospatial conference hosted by Esri in February, NGA Director Letitia Long said the agency s goal is to have analysts fully immersed in an informa- tion environment that is enhanced with the latest visual, auditory and tactical tools by 2020. NGA s budget, which has doubled to $5 billion in the past 10 years, high- lights the increased importance geo- spatial data plays in national security. And the agency collects petabytes of data via various platforms. To use and share it effectively, of cials must give it context, which can be a challenge if the data lacks geospatial attributes. "How do you put context to docu- ments that don t have geospatial lati- tude and longitude in them? How do you disambiguate?" asked Michael Walsh, senior director of Virginia Intel- ligence Programs at Intelligent Deci- sions, which has IT contracts with sev- eral intelligence and defense agencies. "That s a big piece to making sense of information." "Maps aren t pieces of paper any- more," he added. "They are layers on top of each other. Geography, weather patterns, crops, migrations of people --- those are all layers." Whether they show dots on a map, trends over time, real-time situational awareness or possible policy implica- tions, maps have a growing importance in government. In the past decade, technology has allowed for the pro- duction of better maps while simulta- neously improving the consumption of the information they provide, down to nearly every mobile and Web-connect- ed device. People used to use maps so they didn t get lost. Now we use them for almost everything. ■ Although the State Department is both a producer and a consumer of geospa- tial data, geo-analytics and maps, not all of its work is kept behind closed doors. For instance, State s Humanitarian Information Unit collects, analyzes and disseminates unclassi ed information regarding humanitarian emergencies, and publishes high-quality maps that track relevant variables such as refugee migration and global health initiatives. The HIU team consists of roughly 20 analysts, researchers, geospatial ana- lysts, cartographers and developers under the department s Of ce of the Geographer and Global Issues. Josh Campbell, GIS architect at HIU, said the unit s maps can help people make sense of complex humanitarian emergencies and understand what is happening on the ground. The team is known for its accuracy, and HIU s maps are widely cited by the media. But the work is intensive. In 2013, the team was particularly busy tracking the civil war in Syria. To document the migration of refugees, analysts pooled data from media reports, commercial satellite imagery and internal documents. Then subject- matter experts sifted through the data to ensure its legitimacy, technical staffers built corresponding datasets, GIS analysts compiled the data, and cartographers produced the nished products. Some maps showed the displace- ment of refugees over time while others mapped the escape routes and destinations of the 1.8 million Syrian refugees, including the hot spots from which they ed, where they went and where the humanitarian resources were located. The maps gave decision- makers valuable insight into the con ict from a humanitarian standpoint. "Maps unlock a great cognitive power, " Campbell said. "Visualization, whether graphical or geographical, sim- pli es complex relationships. " --- Frank Konkel STATE DEPARTMENT: Mapping the humanitarian crisis in Syria
March 30, 2014