The FBI’s GIS Initiative - iDomain

By Joe Francica

Until 2005 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) depended on a "thick client" approach to GIS that included ArcGIS deployed at 12 field offices with limited means for sharing information. Despite recognition by the FBI's director of intelligence that GIS was a key technology for its work, no coordinated efforts to manage the GIS initiatives were forthcoming. That changed in 2005 with the Domain Management Initiative, iDomain. iDomain is a Web-based mapping application based on the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's (NGA) Palanterra (pdf), which is a secure, common operational picture Web portal held behind the FBI's firewall.

The initiative grew, and in January 2007 the FBI's goal was to provide specialized training and equipment for two or three users per field office. Amy Pepper, a speaker at the ESRI Federal User's Conference in Washington, D.C. and unit chief of the FBI, explained that training was a big issue because eventually the FBI needed to provide more than 120 individuals with a full week of GIS training, outstripping capacity. NGA assistance mitigated some of the overload. In the meantime, the FBI formed a GIS subcommittee and launched an email list and Microsoft SharePoint portal to share GIS tips and best practices.

As iDomain became an official project, management demands increased. It was time to identify a life cycle management structure and develop a detailed budget to obtain the required funding. The iDomain project required a geospatial infrastructure; a four-phase implementation plan is now ongoing.

Phase 1 - Palanterra behind firewall; Homeland Security Infrastructure Program (HSIP) Gold data; users can upload individual case data
Phase 2 - Phase 1 plus investigative data warehouse
Phase 3 - Imagery
Phase 4 - Additional tools and data

The FBI is actively recruiting GIS specialists, though at present iDomain does not yet have a dedicated staff. The project relies on NGA training teams and computer-based training via a virtual academy. SharePoint provides a way to share ideas about methodology (for example, how did you find that bank robber?) between field offices.

iDomain's long term goals include the creation of a robust cadre of GIS applications, the use of both thin and thick clients, and creation of a directorate of GIS. Today there are more people in the field creating maps because of these initial steps in developing a web-based application. There are some growing pains but Pepper noted a lot of progress within the last year. For example, Pepper explained how the iDomain team geocoded a substantial amount of text data to obtain a geospatial reference and make it available via the integrated system. An FBI national conference is planned for the future.

Published Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Written by Joe Francica

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