Homeland Security Department to provide geospatial data to cities

The Homeland Security Department plans to provide geospatial data to state and local governments so they can track sensitive information such as suspicious activity and coordinate responses.

The department tested the program in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., using commercial and government-developed mapping applications that provided layers of data on hospitals, schools, roads and critical infrastructures in major urban areas and some rural ones, said Matthew Broderick, director of DHS’ Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC).

“And over that we’re layering in suspicious activity,” he said. For example, if authorized personnel want to see a record of suspicious activity around Chicago’s rapid transit system in the past two years, the mapping application would display dots to show where such activity had occurred. Detailed reports about individual incidents could be easily retrieved from the map interface.

“That’s one of maybe 50 layers of information we’re putting into this database,” Broderick said. “If you wanted to know where all the chemical and biological detectors were in the United States and had the right clearance, you could come in and it would show you where they are and what level they are and what types they are. But it’s all clearance-oriented.”

Broderick said Los Angeles has added a tracking mechanism to locate police officers via their laptop computers. The system proved itself during a recent operation when officials were able to view information for 65 locations simultaneously to coordinate what Broderick described as "a large takedown."

He said DHS plans to make the geospatial data available to state and local government officials this fall, after they have received the appropriate clearances. The information will be available at three levels: sensitive but unclassified, law enforcement and secret.

Broderick testified before a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee July 20 about HSOC and the Homeland Security Information Network, and spoke with reporters afterward.

He said HSOC’s structure will essentially remain unchanged under DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff’s reorganization plan. HSOC has been described as a nerve center in the collection and dissemination of information related to homeland security.

Under Chertoff’s plan, the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection (IAIP) Directorate will be split into three elements -- intelligence; infrastructure protection, which will move into a new preparedness directorate; and HSOC.

Broderick said the intelligence portion of IAIP will still be integrated into HSOC, which has a direct line to Chertoff. He said the center will continue to collect raw data and provide it to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which reports to the director of national intelligence, and other agencies. NCTC has a more global view and will provide analysis to HSOC, which will then distribute information to DHS entities as well as state, local and tribal governments.

Josh Filler, director of the Office of State and Local Government Coordination, who testified at the same hearing, said many of his office’s functions will be moved to the new preparedness directorate.

The functions will “still be provided on a departmentwide basis, but [they] will be linked up with a piece of the department that will have greatest connectivity with state and local [governments] around the country,” Filler told reporters after the hearing.


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