Geographic information systems, or GIS, is a revolutionary technology that uses location as a way to bring different types of data together. One of the more important markets for the technology is government, with one forecast estimating a compound annual growth rate of 11 percent from 2011 to 2015.
And one of the key drivers for the growth? National security. It’s a trend that offers opportunities for people who have gone through GIS masters programs. What set the direction for use of GIS in national security was the attacks on September 11, 2001. Officials saw that geospatial data — the movement of people, location of potential targets, identification of key natural resources — were vital to combining many streams of intelligence and combining them to gain insight into potential dangers. As the Federal Geographic Data Committee notes:
Powerful geographic information systems are now available that quickly render one to several layers of digital geospatial data into map-like products. These systems can facilitate near-real time performance of a wide range of relevant geospatial analyses. These systems can be used to access and process digital geospatial data virtually anywhere because it, unlike analog data, can be instantly transmitted from wherever it’s maintained and stored to any place where it’s needed.
GIS allows governments to create systems to perform rapid analysis on intelligence; improve threat, risk, and vulnerability assessments; and more effectively plan for emergencies and respond to them. There are five general aspects to the work being done:
- Detection — GIS can help to link information in time and space and quickly recognize patterns of potential danger.
- Preparedness — When teams respond to an emergency, be it an attack or natural disaster, having all the relevant data for a specific geographic location can improve the ability of teams to respond.
- Prevention — Knowledge of borders and geographic features can help officials take action against the detected early stages of an attack and prevent it before it can actually occur.
- Protection — GIS allows a full analysis of locations and infrastructure to better understand vulnerability, which helps officials devise improved protection plans.
- Rapid Response and Recovery — Focusing more on natural disasters and events like wildfires, it is impossible to stop them. But with the full analysis and detailed tracking that GIS makes possible, emergency officials can more quickly and effectively take action.
All these activities require people with all levels of GIS knowledge and formal education, and particularly those who can combine technology with analysis, data skills, and strategic insight.