GIS (Geographic Information Systems)

One of the aims of this page is to show the possibilities and practical uses of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in the security industry or any other for that matter.

Having been involved in the Security Industry for many years, mainly in Hostile Environments,ten years of which have been mainly in post invasion Iraq. Also having a solid background in IT, from software development to hardware infrastructures and having a particular keen interest in GIS has led me to create several tools to aid with the plotting of hostile acts for route planning, etc.

These tools are explained on this page.

First, a very quick overview of what GIS is.

GIS is a system of hardware, software and procedures to facilitate the management, manipulation, analysis, modeling, representation and display of georeferenced data to solve complex problems regarding planning and management of resources
- NCGIA, 1990

Simply put, GIS is the plotting and layering of information mainly on a digital format such as Garmin MapSource, Google Earth or ArcGIS. As the layers increase trends and other information show themselves, data analysis on the back end data can help to predict times and locations of activities.

GIS has a long and distinguished history. From the early Cartographers mapping dangers on an unknown coastline, through to modern day uses by gas / oil and mineral companies in exploration for new resources.

The latest outbreak of Swine Flu caused the WHO (World Health Organisation) to successfully employ GIS as an aid to globally track and limit the spread of the disease.

Local councils in the UK have also been employing GIS for sometime to record and predict such events as floods, antisocial behaviour, etc.

So as you can see the applied uses of GIS are vast and will certainly help shape our future.

Plotting Information.

Here I will try to show the advantages of employing GIS in a hostile area.
Due to the sheer number of reported incidents at times (up to 70 per day in Baghdad alone during Ramadan 2004) it was impossible to mark the paper map up to show exact locations of each specific attack. Mostly clustered or hot areas were identified so extra care could be taken in and around those locations.

With all previous Significant Activities (SigActs) being logged, it was simple to show exact locations of specific SigActs along with other information recorded at the time, such as type of incident, time and date, what the intended target was, etc.

One obvious benefit of having the latest information on the ground was if the Team was re-tasked and had to enter an area that was not covered fully in the pre-movement brief.

It was possible to take a laptop on the ground with the updated file, which did work well for a time. But this was extra kit to carry, and cumbersome compared to a handheld GPS.

So the logical answer was to have the SigActs plotted on the GPS. This was done by coding a small utility that took the SigAct file and plotted it to the GPS management software. In this case Garmin MapSource was used. Once the data was checked to be in a uniform (clean) state within the SigAct file the file could then be uploaded to MapSource, then distributed to any amount of GPS systems. This process only takes a few minutes, whereas to do this manually could take hours and be prone to human error.
The follow image shows a total of 2065 incidents in just over a two week period, makes sense to automate it.. Also it shows how easy it is to see the sorts of incidents in each area.

How relevant incidents were filtered.

As each incident is reported, the basic details are recorded. This enables plotting the type of information such as the time, location, type of incident.

This was recorded on Microsoft Excel format. Relevant parties received these updated files country wide SigActs. A Team in Baghdad or Mosul were not particularly interested in the SigActs in Basrah and vice versa. So there was a lot of redundant information that had to be sifted through to retrieve area specific SigActs.

This was mainly done this manually and could be a laborious task permitting human error.

With an automated system the filtering of relevant data would massively speed this process up. A simple application was then created using Microsoft Excel, that requested the User to enter the North West and South East Grids of the area they wanted filtered. The application then parsed through the large amount of data returning only relevant information within the area given as requested.

Plotting the time of relevant incidents.

With all the SigAct data collated it was easy to create a graph over a 24 hours period to show the busiest and quietest times of day. The next step was to convert the date to the corresponding day of the week. Doing this over a period of say 4 weeks, highlights not only the busy and quiet times of the day, but the busy and quite days of the week.

So now in the planning of a mission, armed with the information of when it could be safest to take the Client / Principal to that hot area for a one off visit.

Some locations do require that the Client / Principal is at a meeting same time each week so this can not be avoided, but this method can be employed for other locations or one off locations.

Case Study:
In a 4 week period studying a Northern city in Iraq, there was an approximate average of 7 reported attacks per day, but very few between 14:00 hrs and 16:00 hrs. This was probably due to the hot weather? However, on top of that there was only 1 reported attack on a Saturday morning during this period. Therefore a successful mission was planned to a hot area on a Saturday afternoon.

Please note that this is not a replacement for tactical awareness, just further information to aid with the planning of missions.

Example charts:

Tracks from the GPS to FalconView.

First off, I believe there is a program that does this, but I have not seen it and am told that the lease is very expensive.

Recorded tracks on the GPS can be transferred to MapSource and viewed on Google Earth. This is a great utility to see where exactly the Team crossed the river etc, giving greater information to future missions in the same area. Google earth does not support proper military or Ordnance Survey maps but FalconView and other GIS packages do. So with a few steps and using FalconView's back end databases it is quite simple to convert the GPS track to a FlaconView draw file giving an exact track of movements on a detailed map.

Note, that FalconView can record tracks if the laptop is connected to a GPS and taken on the ground, but as mentioned before this can be cumbersome.

So there you have it, an overview of how GIS can be employed to help make a safer environment to work in..

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