A Common Vision for Homeland Security
Homeland security is a proactive approach for preventing
terrorist attacks, especially attacks made by non-state actors.
These attacks, designed to disrupt society and incite fear, may
be made to get attention for a cause or exact political concessions.
Homeland security focuses on protecting lives, property, and critical
|The data sharing, analysis, and graphic representation
available through enterprise GIS speeds understanding of events
and improves decision making.
Although concerns about terrorist attacks against
specific areas of society, such as agricultural, public health,
and transportation, are not new, putting these concerns in the context
of a coordinated effort to protect all domestic assets has developed
as a result of the attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.,
on September 11.
Implementing homeland security necessitates understanding
the systems, infrastructure, organizations, and vital interactions
necessary for the well being of communities. GIS is critical to
this effort because it integrates all types of information and relates
that information spatially. The data sharing, analysis, and graphic
representation available through enterprise GIS speeds understanding
of events and improves decision making. These strengths make GIS
the best backbone technology for homeland security.
Emergency managers have recognized this and many
now use GIS to enhance the emergency management planning cycle,
a comprehensive approach for dealing with disasters, both natural
and man-made. See the accompanying article, "Supersizing Emergency
Management with GIS," for more information on homeland security
applications of emergency management planning that use GIS.
The Challenges of Homeland Security
For government leaders used to thinking of security
in terms protection against conventional attacks by other nations
and threats to United States forces and allies overseas, the shift
to homeland security will call for some adjustment. Domestic preparedness
is both information intensive and multi-jurisdictional.
Many government agencies and other organizations
have been creating and maintaining spatial data for decades, making
the United States the most geodata rich country in the world. However,
much of this data is trapped in information silos isolated within
departments and organizations. To implement homeland security without
costly replication of data will require the type of data integration
provided by GIS as well as agreements that inventory and allow access
to data by many jurisdictions in a controlled manner.
The unpredictability of terrorist acts makes homeland
security challenging in ways that typical emergency management is
not. Natural disasters, and some emergencies, can be predicted to
some degree. The risks and hazards presented by natural disasters
have been studied. Emergency managers learn from the experiences
of others in dealing with similar threats and base strategies for
planning, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery on this
In contrast, terrorist events are random and somewhat
unique. The timing and targets are relatively unpredictable. Although
some obvious targets can be identified, locking down all the targets
attractive to terrorists for an unspecified time period is generally
not feasible. After an initial strike, communication from or information
about the terrorist organization responsible may narrow the field
of targets. However, without proactive work in the areas of mitigation,
planning, and response, even more specific information will probably
not prevent, or at least limit, additional strikes.
Homeland Means Geography
Homeland describes a place and geography is the
definition of place. To effectively address threats to homeland
security requires understanding many types of geography--physical,
natural, cultural, social, and economic. Knowledge of all these
geographies is prerequisite for homeland security. For example,
dams, airports, and bridges--all part of the built environment or
cultural geography--are components of a community's infrastructure.
Understanding this geography is critical to the process of identifying
vulnerabilities and formulating mitigation and preparedness measures.
GIS is by far the best technology for this task.
In the process of identifying these critical spatial features, GIS
helps uncover chokepoints. A chokepoint is a place where several
types of critical infrastructure converge. For example, a bridge
could carry power and telecommunication lines as well as providing
the only egress for a populated area. An event at a chokepoint,
such as an explosion on that bridge, would have multiple effects.
Once chokepoints have been identified, mitigation
can be devised and applied. Mitigation can be a policy, such as
limiting access to an area, or physical action, such as posting
armed guards, or a change in operational procedures, such as limiting
traffic. Mitigation can also mean making changes that eliminate
a chokepoint. Using the bridge example, mitigation in this case
could mean building another bridge.
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