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Emergency response system: The potent technique

Col (Retd) Richard Sundharam

Col (Retd) Richard Sundharam
Head – Defence and HLS, NIIT-GIS Ltd
[email protected]

<< Present day conflicts demand that security agencies invest in technologies that provide them complete situational awareness. This will go a long way in enhancing surveillance and emergency response capabilities of the state >>

Acts of terror, organised crime and communal riots are the major threats to internal security. Terrorists aim to induce a state of chaos by threatening vital installations like government offices, defence installations, sensitive areas like places of worship, etc and ultimately common citizens. Over a period of time, the nature of terrorist operations too has undergone a sea change. Terrorist attacks have become more bold, audacious and sophisticated. 9/11, Parliament attack and the more recent 26/11 Mumbai attacks are clear indicators of this trend. Home-grown terror too has engulfed large parts of the country and is being tackled on many fronts by various central and state police forces. India is facing the menace of terrorism from a very long time, be it Punjab, North-East or J&K. Post 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India has taken many initiatives Emergency Response System towards improving its intelligence gathering and post-incident response capabilities. However, GIS is still not being exploited fully for tacking terrorism. Creating a GISbased common operating picture is very potent technique for tackling terrorism-related intelligence issues and operations.

Issues while addressing internal security
Tackling internal security situations are beset with numerous issues as follows:-

  • Collation and managing data: Internal security agencies have to access and manage data from numerous sources/ agencies in order to understand how they are exposed and their vulnerability areas.
  • Identify vulnerabilities and mitigation requirements: Data once made available needs to be analysed to study the impact and some meaningful mitigation strategy worked out along with suitable budgets and plans for response.
  • Develop suitable plans: The plans themselves need to be accurate and understandable by all stakeholders.
  • Track and manage resources: During the incident, public needs to be constantly updated about the situation. Also, security agencies need to track and manage resources deployed for the purpose. Many of these resources would be available from distant locations and have to be guided to the correct destinations. Public, at large, also needs to be made aware of the situation confronting them.
  • Support response, incident management and recovery: Finally, response and recovery has to be supported at every stage as this is a slow and time consuming process.

In order to address challenges of internal security, it is essential to adopt geospatial process. Creating a common operating picture addresses the unique challenges faced during internal security by taking data from multiple sources and integrating them into a common geodatabase. In addition, it gives stakeholders capability to analyse and visualise data in order to make informed decisions on plans and provide tools to execute them efficiently.

What is ‘Common Operating Picture’ and its requirements?
‘Common Operating Picture’ is a typical military phrase and is defined as a single identical display of relevant information shared by more than one command. It facilitates collaborative planning and assists all echelons of the hierarchy in achieving situational awareness. Situational awareness (SA) is keeping track of what is going on around you in a complex and dynamic environment. A comprehensive common operating picture caters to the following:-

  1. Situational awareness.
  2. Accurate updates as situation changes.
  3. Ability to add data from external and internal systems.
  4. Access existing information and plans.
  5. Ability to provide rapid analysis for decision support.
  6. Uncomplicated user interface.
  7. s Capability to share the common operating picture with others.

In order to create an effective common operating picture, there are four important requirements. These are:-

Data management: For an effective common operating picture, we need the capability to access, store and manage data – not only GIS data but all kinds of data. Data pertaining to buildings, government/ critical infrastructure, hospitals, public facilities, etc are all essential inputs for internal security operations. Along with this, dynamic information about automatic vehicle location, transport, weather, traffic update, etc, gives an update on current status.

Planning and analysis: On accessing our vulnerabilities, we can analyse the impact. Such analysis brings out mitigation requirements such as what equipment is required, how to raise the level of preparedness, etc?

Situational awareness: This is the capability to visualise events in real-time and contextualise them. Situational awareness helps to operationalise plans.

Field operations support: A mobile common operating picture enables better incident management support and has bi-directional realtime data transaction of events that are unfolding in the field.

In fact, creating a common operating picture is an excellent way to handle various crisis/ emergency scenarios such disaster management and epidemics. During floods, forest fires, tsunami and earthquakes, relief managers could rely on creating a common operating picture to ensure effective rescue and relief operations. Medical experts dealing with epidemics such as bird flu etc. also rely on it to tackle any crisis. Essential component of such missions is that they deal with some form of emergency or crisis that affect citizens at large and require collaboration and sharing of information to achieve success.

Challenges while creating a common operating picture
Each of the essential elements required to create a common operating picture, involve numerous challenges and pain areas. Availability of all kinds of data helps in accessing and linking plans to our common operating picture so that there is no latency in issuing directions. Latest imagery is an important source of information especially during crisis situation. Hence, it is essential to have a large platform to store and access such information.

A number of different types of incidents are possible and depending on the situation, security agencies should be able to assess impacts using modelling and consequence analysis. Such analysis gives an idea of the nature of equipment required to address specific challenges. Hence, another area of concern is how to model risks and hazards to derive mitigation and preparedness plans. Another challenge is how to build something which is powerful enough to analyse data and at the same time is simple enough to be used by non-GIS personnel. An effective common operating picture should be able to share information and data with appropriate personnel. In addition to voice communication, visual display of the common operating picture ensures clarity to all executioners. Finally, filtering only selected information for general public should also be feasible.

An excellent GIS infrastructure is required that can collect field data from mobile devices and update the picture quickly. Situation updates from field workers permit the other stakeholders to anticipate next few steps. Rapid damage assessment is also an essential part of the field support.

Overcoming challenges
As explained earlier, data from various agencies need to be linked to the central repository. While basemaps may be obtained from Survey of India, complementary data from various state departments would be essential and methodology for its exchange needs to be worked out. A suitable model for this is the Delhi State Spatial Data Infrastructure (DSSDI) which also has the necessary legal provisions in place.

Secure communication medium is essential for putting a common operating picture in place. Use of ‘NatGrid’ for such task could be explored further. Using public communication infrastructure is possible but how would this work during typical incidents need to be fully examined.

GIS technology that caters to the entire range of platform architecture such as servers, desktops and mobile devices is very important in implementing a common operating picture. Web GIS technology would be helpful since creating a common picture involves sharing and collaboration of large number of stakeholders. Browser-based GIS applications are essential for delivering content to a variety of platforms.

26/11 Mumbai attacks and killing of CRPF personnel at Dantewada in 2010 by Maoists are a constant reminder of the difficulties and dangers of undertaking internal security operations in recent times. Creating a common operating picture to collate data and analyse risks would go a long way in enhancing the effectiveness of security operations and subsequent recovery after the incident. Though there are many challenges towards fully exploiting GIS for handling such operations in the country, it is recommended that this should not be delayed any further.