Geospatial intelligence use grows at DHS, official says

he Homeland Security Department is relying more often and more broadly on geospatial information technology to collect and analyze intelligence for its counterterrorism and emergency response missions, according to Charles Allen, the undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS.

“DHS’ imagery requirements are significantly greater, in number and scope, than they were at the department’s creation, and will continue to grow at an accelerating rate as the department’s mission-space evolves,” Allen told participants at the GEOINT Symposium geospatial intelligence conference Oct. 28 in Nashville, Tenn.

The DHS Geospatial Management Office, in partnership with the agency's chief information officer, is working to deploy to DHS’ intelligence components geospatial tools “with a Google Earth-feel” before the end of the year, Allen said.

Geospatial products and intelligence played a key role in the department’s preparation for natural disasters and its response to them, Allen said. Geospatial products were used to help assess damage, aid in search and rescue and debris removal, and support incident management. Geospatial efforts are being coordinated across agencies, Allen said.

For example, during Hurricane Ike, for the first time, U.S. Customs and Border Protection flew the Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s relief efforts. An interagency committee evaluated the remote sensing requirements and performance.

Meanwhile, technical hurdles must be overcome to improve geospatial IT applications, Allen added. For example, to accommodate the volumes of DHS-derived data, technical challenges remain to accurately extract geospatial information from free-flow text. “We’re not there yet, but we are encouraged by our future prospects,” he said.

For developing future satellite imagery capabilities, Allen recommended diversity, availability, survivability and flexibility for future systems in a satellite and modular payload system similar to what was advised by the Marino Report in July 2007 to the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.

“It describes an architecture that allows for short time between launch as well as an option for variable modalities. This kind of diversity is what I believe will be necessary to assure adequate collection of a wide array of targets,” Allen said.

Geospatial imagery collection and analysis by DHS components is also part of national security events such as the political conventions, the Secure Border Initiative and of the National Applications Office, Allen said. The applications office has been controversial due to privacy concerns.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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