Remote Users Require Innovation in Web Services
by Mariah Rose
Reporter, Denver, Colo.
In today’s world of constantly evolving technological advances, numerous software providers are utilizing data gathered from above the globe merged with data from other sources to create exciting, cutting-edge Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT) products designed for use in a multitude of disciplines, including defense and emergency response. According to Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), (Bethesda, Md.), the official definition of GEOINT is “the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information to describe, assess and visually depict physical features and geographically referenced activities on the Earth. In short, GEOINT shows what’s where on Earth.”
NGA, the premier provider of geospatial intelligence worldwide, is a combat support agency of the Department of Defense. The agency uses GEOINT to identify items on, above or beneath the Earth’s surface, and displays that information visually to provide a meaningful foundation for making decisions related to national security.
While GEOINT represents the integration of digital imagery with mapping, the technology is better defined by the analysis and insight it makes possible. The NGA predicts that GEOINT will transform the entire geospatial community by streamlining analysis capabilities and increasing end users’ abilities to provide tailored and timely solutions to complex problems.
Because its appetite for geospatial products is nearly insatiable, the NGA actively solicits imagery and data from many sources. The NGA promotes teamwork between the government and the private sector through its Industry Interaction Process, which ensures the agency’s access to ground-breaking thought, pioneering research and in-depth technical expertise from both commercial and governmental environments. They rely on various software providers for innovative solutions.
Figure 2 << Vegetation vector data added from an ESRI ArcIMS service on the Geography Network
ESRI (Redlands, Calif.) has a ten-year history of implementing GIS technology on the Internet and believes the entire GEOINT discipline is moving toward Web-based products. The company developed ArcWeb Services to support Web developers in the creation and deployment of GIS services. Arc-Web Services can be integrated into all of ESRI’s GEOINT products and provide access to content that goes beyond routes and directions, giving users access to a full suite of analytic services built with ESRI’s GIS technologies. ArcWeb provides three types of geo-Web services. First, the product provides basic content and geoprocessing services, including maps, geocoding, routing, weather, traffic and demographics. Second, higher-level combinations of services are available, which join content and functions. Examples of these functions are locators (i.e. find the nearest gas station), and a geocoding tool that creates a map from the user’s information. Third, Arc-Web provides complete solutions: special purpose geocentric applications that solve a complete problem, such as evaluating a real estate selection.
ArcWeb Services are currently available for North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The system also includes world coverage of premium aerial imagery and major highways. ESRI expects detailed coverage of many additional countries to be available soon. (See Figures 1 and 2.)
Crisis Command and Autodesk Map 3D
Autodesk (San Rafael, Calif.) developed a webenabling GEOINT solution with its Crisis Command product. The software provides both tactical and strategic capabilities for emergency response officials. The application can be used for incident reporting and notification, crucial asset tracking, landmark and resource information, fire attack preplanning, fire-flow and bomb-blast analysis, sniper/counter-sniper events, dynamic 3D visualization, and command and control. Crisis Command is built on the company’s flagship Autodesk MapGuide software.
Because strategic and tactical activities are closely related, emergency responders must be able to transfer information between the two functions. With Autodesk Crisis Command, users can efficiently share the crucial information necessary to make informed decisions quickly and with confidence.
Autodesk also developed Autodesk Map 3D, a tool for integrating CAD and GIS technologies. Its strength is an open and flexible environment that enables mapping, CAD, and Civil Engineering professionals to work with virtually any data, regardless of format. Autodesk Map 3D also provides powerful GIS capabilities such as topology for performing analyses, including buffers, overlays, dissolves and network analyses, essentially bridging the gap between CAD and GIS technologies.
Geo-intelligence Production System
Intergraph Corp. (Huntsville, Ala.) provides a Geo-Intelligence Production System (GIPS) designed to meet the challenges of protecting citizens against terrorist threats, responding to catastrophic events and deploying military units. Among its many functions, GIPS provides direct connectivity to source data that is in a variety of formats. GIPS technology enables users to attach, read, view, edit and analyze the source imagery data without conversion processes. This absence of middleware facilitates efficient integration with other enterprise systems.
Intergraph’s GIPS product can be used to support the requirements for many military and national map production workflows. The product contains a set of capabilities to capture, analyze, manage and share mapping products in both digital and hard copy formats. It provides image processing functionality, such as orthorectification, which is important for customers desiring to preprocess imagery prior to extracting features from it. Data can be collected on a tile-by-tile basis, into a countrywide database, or directly into an enterprise database, potentially with worldwide coverage. (See Figure 3.)
Figure 3 << Intergraph Geo-Intelligence Production System (GIPS) Solution.
According to Robert Mott, GIPS product manager, the most relevant current use of GIPS is in support of NGA’s Multinational Geospatial Co-production Program (MGCP), in which member nations operate two key GIPS components—Intergraph’s GeoMedia Topographer and Geo-Media Curator—to support their imagery-related production activities.
Professional Interactive Information Environment Platform
Digital Harbor (Reston, Va.) offers a solution well-suited for homeland security functions. The company’s PiiE (Professional Interactive Information Environment) platform enables users to correlate geospatial imagery in real-time by integrating live GIS information and imagery with data from search engines, detection systems, alerts, web services, databases, documents and emails from multiple systems.
Digital Harbor’s PiiE platform allows homeland security personnel to both access and act upon information. PiiE provides the capability to interface with GIS and data, letting users interact with the information in real-time, promoting efficient and well-informed decision making. PiiE is designed to use “train-of-thought,” as well as “ad hoc analysis,” which allows the information gathering processes to follow a rational sequence.
PiiE also enables the creation of relationships among multiple data sources. This capability provides vital pieces of a complex information puzzle to be obtained quickly and easily. Digital Harbor’s PiiE platform is fully integrated with ESRI’s comprehensive imagery database. (See Figure 4.)
Figure 4 << Digital Harbor Professional Interactive Information Environment (PiiE) Platform
Geographic Text Search Appliance
MetaCarta Inc. (Vienna, Va.) has developed an advanced, location-aware Geographic Text Search (GTS) appliance which fuses a text search with geographic information to analyze documents. “The software can identify the difference between Paris, Texas; Paris, France; and Paris Hilton,” according to Randy Ridley, vice president/general manager. When used in a defense capacity, MetaCarta provides analysts with increased abilities to monitor intelligence reports, as well as to test and corroborate a hypothesis by enabling customers to discover, visualize and act on location-based information.
Most commercial and government enterprises have tens of millions of documents in digital form, including reports, emails and Web pages. More than 80 percent of the text in these documents references geographic locations. MetaCarta’s GTS automatically extracts the geometric references in these documents, assigns them a latitude and longitude, and displays the results on a map with icons representing the locations found in the natural language text of the documents. Recently, MetaCarta combined its GTS with ESRI’s GIS tools, allowing users to access GTS through ESRI’s ArcMap.
Image Access Solutions
RSI (Boulder, Colo.) recently released its Image Access Solutions (IAS) 2.2, designed for the intelligence community, first responders and deployed field users who need timely access to large, highresolution imagery. IAS is a platform for disseminating, compressing and storing geospatial satellite imagery. Imagery files are normally extremely large, which makes it difficult for users receiving data from remote locations to have easy access to geospatial intelligence. IAS enables military personnel and others in remote locations using laptops or PDAs to store, manage and send images via email by compressing these images into a jpeg2000 format.
“The most unique feature of IAS,” according to Bill Okabo, IAS product manager, “is the interactive nature of the streaming technology that enables users, such as first responders or tactical forces, intelligently to access geospatial imagery in a timely and efficient manner.” IAS provides con tent-based delivery technology, versus the file-based techniques that are prevalent in many existing architectures.
The U.S. Army’s National Ground Intelligence Command (NGIC) has used IAS, initially released in 2003, in training and actual missions overseas. Military personnel can request specific imagery before a training or intelligence mission. The imagery is then made available to them at remote workstations, in spite of constrained bandwidths.
On the Horizon for Geoint
Because access to image data solely from a desktop environment with local disk storage is no longer adequate, the prevalence of remote users and mobile devices will be the foundation of distributed networks that require software technologies to be built around web services, according to RSI’s Bill Okubo. “Of significance is the expectation that geospatial imagery can be discovered, accessed and viewed in a timely manner, without sacrificing quality or accuracy. This expectation will drive further investment in enterprise-based software solutions that are standards-based and ensure interoperability.”
Advances in technology will continue to drive the geospatial industry toward improving collaboration among the various agencies and organizations that comprise the international intelligence community, according to Intergraph’s Mott. He agrees that sharing of information through a Web-services architecture will be increasingly important.
GEOINT represents not just an innovation in the way we obtain, manipulate and understand information, but also a revolution in the way we are able to predict and respond to disasters and security issues.
NGA Leverages GEOINT for 2005 Hurricane Response
NGA recently provided unprecedented support to victims in the wake of two historic hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. NGA analysts tasked reconnaissance in the immediate aftermath of the storms to assess the extent of the damage. Collecting and analyzing imagery from National Technical Means (NTM), commercial providers and airborne assets across the region, these analysts focused on 30 counties and parishes designated by the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).
NGA’s substantial cache of key infrastructure data helped to provide a foundation for the creation of a common operating picture. Shape files were created and displayed on unclassified imagery and map backgrounds to provide damage assessments and other critical information to help responders better focus available resources for maximum effectiveness.
NGA analysts were able to view 167 kinds of data, which the agency normally collects for its Homeland Security Infrastructure Program. NGA provided copies of this updated infrastructure data to state GIS coordinators for Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas, who further distributed it to other state and local entities.
Responding to requests from U.S. government agencies operating in the disaster area, NGA analysts generated more than 1,200 tailored geospatial products, using a variety of commercial off the shelf (COTS) software, relying predominantly on ESRI’s ArcGIS. In addition, NGA imagery analysts used various Electronic Light Table (ELT) commercial applications, including Remote View by Sensor Systems. COTS software enables NGA to interface with commercial geospatial companies and with geospatial agencies and organizations.