How Location Intelligence is Paramount to Protecting Our Nation

By Brian Lantz

In times of disaster, either manmade or natural, the government must be able to rapidly and efficiently share and disseminate critical information-particularly spatial information-across agencies, jurisdictions, rescue and recovery responders, and citizens. Effective emergency response requires that the government be able to quickly assess:
  • Where the emergency is occurring;
  • What kind of structures are involved;
  • What buildings or open spaces can be used for staging emergency responses; and
  • How best to move emergency responders to the site quickly and safely.
Location intelligence - visualizing and analyzing information on a map-is paramount for government agencies to be able to achieve fast and efficient response and recovery efforts, such as quickly determining where to dispatch emergency personnel or what areas need to be evacuated.Early this year, Troy, New York-based MapInfo Corporation launched its Homeland Security Program to help government agencies protect its people and assets.MapInfo has more than 16 years of experience helping government agencies use location to make decisions that are more informed and improve public services.

The Elements of Success

The success of homeland security and business continuity requires four strategic capabilities:

  • Centralizing spatial and nonspatial data in a common and open format -- Spatial and nonspatial data such as military assets or crime patterns is often spread throughout an organization and different departments may each have information that is key to developing a cohesive plan.The first step to creating a continuity plan is to centralize and manage all this data in a common, open format, allowing for the easy access and updating of data, data integrity, security and the ability to analyze important information.This will enable an entire organization to benefit from the most updated information.
That is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did when it tapped ScenPro and EYT to use their system, the Lightweight Epidemiology Advanced Detection Emergency Response System (LEADERS).LEADERS is comprised of two parts: a disease surveillance module including a spatial data tool called MedView, which is used to monitor data, and an incident management module including a situational awareness tool called ViewPort, which is used by early responders to deploy resources.
LEADERS is designed to be a national system that uses hospital data as an early warning for bio-terrorist attack.The system has already been deployed in a number of situations, the first being the World Trade Conference in Seattle in 1999.Since then, LEADERS has been put into play during the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Presidential inauguration, and in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy.
Most biological agents present flu-like symptoms, so the basic theory of disease surveillance is to monitor for these symptoms.A sudden and geographically focused increase in certain patient complaints could mean either a flu outbreak or a biological attack. In fact, during the 2000 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, officials found a "minor" flu outbreak.A minor flu outbreak is much more difficult to identify then a major one, and more important to find in order to prevent further problems.
  • Visualizing location data -- Visualizing location data on a map by pinpointing it to an exact latitude/longitude immediately improves information accessibility and value for emergency first responders, global surveillance of public health threats, early warnings of potential threats, emergency response planning and many more homeland security activities.For example, to see where all the power plants are in the U.S., analysts can pinpoint each target and assign a risk value by thematically shading, thereby assessing exposure.
In the case of the World Trade Center collapse, federal officials feared that terrorists could stage a follow-up attack by spreading such diseases as anthrax.LEADERS aggregated symptom information that hospitals collected in emergency rooms, then applied that information to mapping software provided by MapInfo.
While the software tracks specific symptoms, it only collects the ZIP codes-from work and home-of these patients, thereby insuring anonymity.The ZIP-code information enables the CDC to identify clusters of symptoms and react quickly to outbreaks. In the case of September 11, the CDC as well as city and state health officials had access to the data.
The color maps enabled health officials to easily identify and track trends by hospital and geographic area.Color codes change when the number of symptoms reaches a threshold of concern.Health officials also have the ability to watch a "movie" of the admissions to see how they developed over time, enabling them to pinpoint when and where an event began.
  • Applying location intelligence -- Location intelligence is a sophisticated, content-driven, tightly-integrated technology that helps users find the answers to "where" and "what if" questions, enabling them to act as quickly as possible.For example, if the CDC found anything suspicious in the aftermath of September 11, they could post a warning on the LEADERS message board and then activate first responders through the ViewPort portion of the LEADERS program.Using the mapping software and a drag-and-drop interface, health officials can deploy and monitor first responders, zeroing in on the affected area and taking the precautions necessary to keep bio-agents from spreading.
The system can also be used for planning and running drills.In a training situation, for example, pre-set data can be loaded into the surveillance system and test health officials to see how quickly they can spot problems.They can then turn that drill into a first response, deploying fire officials, ambulances and police.
  • Information sharing -- Homeland security and business continuity solutions require coordinated communication that must be shared and accessed across multiple information systems and multiple devices such as networks, the Internet, intranets and mobile devices. MapInfo technology seamlessly integrates with existing IT infrastructures so agencies and organizations can share intelligence, get "at-a-glance" visualizations for accurate asset tracking and provide rapid reaction and response.And while the ability to share data and information is essential if one is to deal effectively with emergency situations, the importance of data sharing is also necessary for proper planning and preparation.
LEADERS puts its data on the Web using highly secure encryption, enabling individuals with approved log-in information to access it from anywhere in the world.This is especially helpful in crisis situations, where the people with the most expertise may not be in position, but can offer the best insight.
Often it is the sharing of accessible data that creates a continuity tool, even when that was not the original intent.Such is the case with New York Site Finder, ( which was originally built to help match corporations and real estate agents with available real estate.But the events of September 11 turned it into a continuity tool.
After the collapse of the World Trade Centers, many companies were looking for permanent or temporary space and New York Site Finder became a primary resource.Without a way to quickly find available space in the region, New York faced losing many tenants to New Jersey, and losing the tax revenue along with them.The site became a primary tool in the search for space, enabling companies to be back up and running quickly.

All organizations are now bracing for the worst and trying to determine how they will go on if something happens.This mindset is now a necessary aspect of business life.However, in order to make these plans, organizations and government agencies must first be able to easily access their information and find ways to understand it.Only then can they prepare effectively for business and government continuity.

Published Wednesday, November 13th, 2002

Written by Brian Lantz

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