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Military maps to focus on natural disasters, analysis

Nov. 19, 2013 - 09:54AM   |  
U.S. Marines supply drinking water for typhoon survivors Tuesday at dusk in Palo, central Philippines.
U.S. Marines supply drinking water for typhoon survivors Tuesday at dusk in Palo, central Philippines. (Wally Santana / AP)
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The Pentagon agency that maps the world wants to create a global geographic intelligence database that can anticipate future world trouble spots and humanitarian crises by combining detailed mapping with information about trends, demographics and weather patterns in those areas.

If successful, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency would have the ability to pick a spot on the map and determine the likelihood of a natural disaster in that area and how U.S. and other aid missions could provide humanitarian aid.

Or, planning documents released over the weekend show, military planners could better determine where future terrorist problems could occur based on an analysis of data layered over detailed mapping of a certain area. The aim of NGA's Project GeoAnalytics is to create a data-rich map that combines the physical location and characteristics of a place with supporting information about its people, weather, political leanings and myriad other details. Details include:

■ The ability to "detect regions undergoing stress or those that are at risk as a result of inherent environmental scarcity, stress due to environmental dynamics and change or inadequate social capital."

■ The need to "identify the spatial extents of anticipated and likely missions (Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief, Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Regional Conflict, etc.) that may occur over specific geolocations based on the geospatial and cultural indicators stress data, open source information and analytic judgment."

■ "Provide short-term (current to next 3 years) and long-term (3 to 5 years) outlooks/forecasts."

■ "Capability to generally characterize the magnitude of ongoing or expected events."

GeoAnalytics is a version of Geographic Information System, which involves the use of large sets of data about any part of the world combined with its physical characteristics. Insurance companies use the information to determine risks, such as which places are more likely to suffer storm damage based on location and past events. Branches of the military have used elements of GIS since the 1980s to map installations and other projects.

The request for contractor information NGA released over the weekend includes a call for increased contractor support for ongoing agency projects, including the development of geospatial intelligence around the world. However, the request also says "NGA will deepen its understanding of events around the world through anticipatory analysis, open source information and the use of change detection services."

NGA, which creates maps for use by the military and other government agencies, is engaged in a wide range of similar projects. It is developing a constantly updated digital map of the world that would span the entire globe. It is also mapping the world's underwater topography to provide a more detailed look at the oceans and how submarines can better navigate them.

Information from NGA has been used in the last week to help the humanitarian mission in the Philippines following the devastating Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 4,000 people. NGA takes satellite photos from the National Reconnaissance Office and other sources to generate detailed maps of areas around the world. Its maps are being used to show which roads and ports have been damaged by the storm and the best routes for aid groups to travel.

For example, NGA mapping is helping aid missions determine the pre-storm locations of hospitals and other local landmarks in areas hit by Haiyan. That gives aid groups an idea of what needs to be replaced or reinforced now that much of the affected area has been destroyed.

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