A quarterly column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers
The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism
Where Do We Go From Here?
The Association of American Geographers (AAG), with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), recently concluded a research project entitled "The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism." The project was undertaken as part of NSF's urgent call for research associated with the recent terrorist attacks on the United States.
The resulting research agenda and recommendations have been widely disseminated to national and international government agencies, the geographic research community, and related disciplines. Outcomes of this study also include the recent publication of a groundbreaking book on the topic.
This is an ongoing process, and we invite the participation of the international geographic research and GIS user communities as we collectively continue to evolve this work in the years ahead.
Key Research Areas
In our discussions with national policy officials and geographic researchers, three broad areas of critical national research priority have repeatedly emerged. These areas are geospatial data and technologies infrastructure, underlying causes of terrorism, and vulnerability science and hazards. Examples of key recommendations in these areas are summarized below.
Geospatial Data and Technologies Infrastructure
The use of geospatial data and technologies was critical during the rescue, relief, and long-term recovery from the September 11, 2001, events. Their prominence now in planning for international efforts to address terrorism suggests many pressing research needs, both short term and long term, in the area of geographic information science and technology. Key action items include establishing a distributed national geospatial infrastructure as a foundation for homeland security. This infrastructure should be designed to serve other needs, as well, such as local government, planning, environmental protection, and economic development.
The Root Causes of Terrorism
One of geography's great strengths is its ability to synthesize information about places in order to understand the linkages between regions and the manifestation of global processes at very local levels. The rich set of contexts advanced by regional specialists can assist in understanding the root causes of terrorism. These should be pursued in a systematic and analytically robust manner through a national interdisciplinary research program on the underlying causes of terrorism.
Vulnerability Science and Hazards Research
The meaning of vulnerability has taken on new interpretations since September 11. We need to broaden our understanding of vulnerability beyond an exposureresponse framework to a more holistic view that includes exposure, susceptibility, resistance, resilience, and adaptation. We need a major effort to develop the basic data, models, and methods for conducting vulnerability assessments at all spatial scales.
Working Together . . .
It is important to bring all of our geographic resources to bear on this important national and international priority. Collaborative efforts between organizations such as AAG, Esri, the International Geographical Union, the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, and many othersas well as interdisciplinary linkages and partnerships with federal agencies, private firms, and international nongovernmental organizationswill be required as we all work toward refining and achieving this ambitious agenda.
The full results of the research undertaken to date by the AAG/NSF project are now available in the book entitled The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism. Edited by Susan L. Cutter, Douglas Richardson, and Thomas J. Wilbanks, the book includes a foreword by Dr. Jack Marburger, the top White House science official, and an introduction by Dr. Philip Rubin of the National Science Foundation. An epilogue to the book by Jack Dangermond, president of Esri, provides an excellent perspective from the private sector and a poignant personal account of the events after September 11.
Published by Routledge, The Geographical Dimensions of Terrorism is written for policy makers and local governments, as well as researchers, and for use as a supplemental text for courses in geography and related disciplines. The book may be ordered from AAG (at www.aag.org or by calling 202-234-1450) at a price of $15.00 for AAG members or $20 for nonmembers.
Feel free to contact me (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions, comments, or ideas.