Winter  >>  2004

Fresh Water

The Stuff of Life and the Focus of Future Political and Social Tensions

Shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, geospatial experts went to work assisting in the response and recovery efforts. Their experiences demonstrated the utility of remote sensing and other geospatial technologies in the battle against terrorism. These technologies, while certainly not a panacea, often provide the critical edge for security planning and rapid response to emergencies. Unfortunately, too few state and local communities yet have the capacity to put these useful tools to work, in large part because too little focused attention has been directed at research, development, and implementation of user-friendly geospatial tools to support security efforts.

Surface transportation security is of highest concern because vulnerabilities throughout elements of the transportation infrastructure render them potential targets of terrorist activity. Intermodal freight transport and the transport of hazardous materials make particularly tempting terrorist targets. Further, the several modes of intermodal transport could be used clandestinely to convey weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Hazardous materials such as nuclear cargo and waste can be diverted in transit by terrorists and used destructively. Common and widely-transported materials such as gasoline or chlorine can even serve as frightening instruments of destruction. The security of both intermodal and hazardous materials transport is a matter of overwhelming importance for state and local authorities, who bear the responsibility of first response in any emergency.

Remote sensing, geographic information systems (GIS), and position, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies provide powerful tools for states and local communities to use in dealing with these important security concerns. The National Consortium on Security, Safety, Hazards, and Disaster Assessment (NCRST-H) has recently issued a report ( or devoted specifically to issues of intermodal freight transport and surface transport of hazardous materials. As the report explains, many transportation security applications require new geospatial tools, which necessitate continued R&D, testing and implementation.

Sensors & Systems | Monitoring, Analyzing and Adapting to Global Change | Stay in tune with the transformation. Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter.