September 11, 2001 re-shaped our local, state, and national landscape. It served as a wakeup call and further emphasized the critical necessity of geospatial technology. Efforts to protect our nation’s security have redoubled since the terrorist attacks. Many fear that our nation’s air and water resources, physical infrastructure, and national borders are particularly vulnerable to future attacks. Contamination and disruption of these national resources would have profound consequences for our society. It is vital that there is continued implementation of proactive monitoring and forecasting efforts to minimize vulnerability in these areas.

Timely and accurate information, easily accessed and capable of being shared across federal, state, and local political jurisdictions is fundamental to our nation’s security. Thanks to geospatial technology, government managers and decision-makers are saving time, money, and lives through better access to the data and tools they need to effectively respond to any number of disasters, from hurricanes, floods, and tornados, to bombs, plane crashes, and toxic waste releases.

Monitoring our Water Supply

Take our nation’s water supply for example. Water flows over the Earth in various forms, from oceans to lakes and streams, and which are all vulnerable to attack. Knowledge of the Earth’s water cycle is a critical first step in protecting our water supply. Geospatial technology provides a wealth of information about the water cycle and allows the ability to monitor water resources and water quality from space.

Securing our Ports & Harbors

Ports and harbors, critical economic assets for the U.S., are serious and potential security risks for the country. As key points of entry for goods, services, and people, the protection of the over 95,000 miles of U.S. coastlines is a high priority. Geospatial technology addresses many of the crucial issues facing ports and harbors by providing a framework for integrated solutions and visualizing geographic data.  Terrorism isn’t the only activity that will suffer from closer monitoring of container and bulk shipping traffic; arms smuggling, immigrant smuggling and narcotics smuggling can also be effectively addressed through the use of geospatial technology.

Protecting the Air We Breathe

With the real threat of airborne contaminants to human health, we must also protect the quality and safety of the air we breathe. Nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological attacks are conceivable threats.  Advances in geospatial technology have improved our ability to monitor our air quality, allowing us to better respond to these threats.

Improving Response & Recovery

Geospatial tools enhance the ability of first-responders to react to natural disasters, homeland security threats, and other emergencies faster, more efficiently, and with greater safety. Using digital maps, database reports, and automated environmental warnings during a crisis, along with a list of available emergency resources can save time, money, and lives. Think about the information needed by emergency officials during a crisis: roads, rivers, building footprints, up-to-the-minute weather radar images, and aerial photography. It is invaluable for officials to have the ability to access this information allowing them to create situation-specific maps and reports about an area being impacted by events such as floods, tornadoes, chemical spills, or fires. Reports can include property values, population demographics, resident and business phone numbers, emergency personnel assigned to the area, and route information.  Maps can be created for emergency personnel such as search and rescue maps, relief distribution points, business recovery maps, and debris clean-up zone maps, just to name a few.

Aiding in Disaster Management

The U.S. government provides billions of dollars in aid to regions impacted by disasters. Effective disaster management requires assimilation and dissemination of preplanned, historical and real-time information to many disparate sources. This information must be relayed and understood in the shortest amount of time possible to carry out the required activities. Police agencies must communicate with government departments, which in turn notify emergency medical professionals and paramilitary forces. The channels of communication must be open at all times. Moreover, all this “talking” must occur within extremely adverse conditions; earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other events are time sensitive and don’t leave much room for delay or faulty communications.

Enhancing Tools for Law Enforcement

Law enforcement officials are also getting in on the action by using remote-controlled planes to conduct information gathering and surveillance to combat crime activities, specifically drug intervention. They use unmanned aerial vehicles to fly over an area and gather information via still pictures and live video, which is transmitted back to authorities on the ground. The planes can be used to look for marijuana fields, gather video surveillance, and get to otherwise inaccessible areas. The small size and low noise output of the aircraft allows it to fly over a site and obtain data without being detected and keeping officers out of danger. The planes are also being used to inspect hazardous situations, assess disaster sites, support border control, and search for missing persons.