Geospatial Technology for Defense and Security

Geospatial Technology for Defense and Security

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John Day, Esri, Director National Security Business Development

John Day is a former British Army officer commissioned from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He has over 30 years of experience in military engineering and geospatial technology; including counter-terrorism activities in Northern Ireland, maneuver warfare in West Germany, and geospatial support in a NATO Corps headquarters. Since joining Esri in 1997, and now as a US citizen, he has advised the US Defense and Intelligence Communities on how commercial geographic information systems (GIS) technologies and solutions translate to defense and intelligence systems. Until June 2014 Mr. Day was Esri’s Director of Defense Business Development, managing relationships with Esri’s global defense and intelligence customers. He is now the Director of Global National Security Business Development, supporting customers requiring national multi-agency, multi-mission solutions not only for defense and intelligence, but also national mapping, public safety and health. John Day earned Master’s degrees in Engineering from Cambridge University, England and in GIS from Edinburgh University, Scotland. In November 2014, the GeoIntelligence Brazil event was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and John Day was one of the speakers. After his lecture, he gave this interview to Geospatial Media & Communication.

GEO-I realize you have been working with security and defense at least in the last 30 years. Just to start our interview, can you do a kind of review: what change in security and defense happened in recent years, because in 72 we had the satellites image, in 86 we had the GIS, after that we had the GPS, now we have the high resolution satellite image, and mainly now we have people quite interested to put all this information together and to work together for security, so can you give an overview for your own experience? What’s the difference from 30 years ago and right know? How this was changing and the advantages we have with these changes?

John Day: I think when I first started in the military, we were using paper maps and combat radios and you had to be an experienced map reader. But all you had was a paper map, somebody else’s definition of what you should see in a very limited multipurpose format, and the only means of communication you had was the VHF and UHF radio, if you were lucky. And I think what’s changed dramatically is that we have gone from paper maps to digital data, we have gone from specialized systems, even analyzing data now were everybody wants access to geospatial information, they want it online, on time, on demand, they want accurate information. It is no longer just the commanders who might have access to a radio, everybody has a device and everybody expects to be able to use that information instantly. They just don’t want to only have a workstation, they still want that for office use, but they also want to have a tablet, and need to be connected in a mobile world.

So to me, what’s really changed is the speed of information, the speed of connectivity, the enabling of mobile systems, but in the middle of that became the digital revolution and the ability to create custom products, rather than to take somebody’s map and put overlays and spend hours trying to analyze that. The ability to bring information from many, many sources, to fuse that information together, in some way to be able to create custom products to meet specific operations, specific needs, and to be able to share that with people and to collaborate even when they are mobile, to me that’s the revolution. I thought I was cool when I had my own vehicle with my own radios and I could communicate, but today, everybody can communicate all the time. And I thought I was cool because I knew how to read a map and interpret controls, well now, the system can do that for us in ways we never even dreamed about back then.

And the other thing I would say is that I don’t think we are finished. To me, we are only at the beginning of sharing this information with everybody. We are only just beginning to give people easy to use, simple applications that are more than viewers, and we are really going to use these to explore the power of the analysis and the collaboration and the sharing that we are now capable of. So to me we are not at the end of the journey, actually we are only now beginning the journey we really wanted to be on many years ago. And if I may, I want to give a little example. When I left the military we had digital systems, and I was an officer and I had commanded soldiers who used them and I wanted to do it. So I got all the data and I built a database of Bosnia. I spent all day and at the end of that day I thought great, I am finished, and then I realized I haven’t even started. All I’ve done was build a base map, and only now I am able to start doing analysis of where polling stations should be or how to look for mass graves, things like that. Now, when I turn on my system, I get a base map and now I can immediately start work, and to me that is the most gratifying thing. I don’t start with a blank screen, I start with data straight away and I can immediately get to work, and that’s where only now I feel that I can actually start doing the job I wanted to do 30 years ago, because technology enables it.

GEO-So, with all this information the frontiers, the borders, basically disappeared, because now with one satellite image you can see your country and the other one; this sometimes is bad, but I think most of the time I think is really very good because you can work an integrated way with your neighbor country, and to protect your own borders and to protect against illicit business and the human traffic, drug traffic, and even when you have a tension between or among the countries you can work with this. You are dealing with the globe but we are mainly interested in Latin America, how do you see the use of this geospatial information for safety, security and defense in Latin America?

John Day: Well, first of all I am not sure that I agree that we now reached this open world, for a couple of reasons. One is, yes we now have the sort of clear skies, policies about satellites being able to fly over space, we basically acknowledge that from Sputnik. Sputnik was where we realized that space was not an area we could deny, and that allows for satellite imagery to be captured. But actually in terms of being truly open and truly being able to share and be transparent with all the benefits that it brings, we are a long way from that because imagery is only a base, we still don’t have (in many of this there are policy issues), we still don’t have open sharing of the internet, we still don’t have people with full access to the internet, there are government policies around the world that are denying and control access to the internet, so not everybody has access to the systems.

The information that we exchanged is now much, much richer than just imagery. So, in my presentation when I talked about the Port of Long Beach and the type of information that they needed to integrate, even amongst the coalition of the willing and the information they need to share to really understand and be able to operate, it is much, much richer now than imagery, it is motion imagery, it is basic tracking systems, an increase in social media because that is how many people in the world today are communicating. So, yes, imagery allows us to be more transparent. I think that forces us to be more open, because we can’t hide the way we used to. But it isn’t that simple, some people are still hiding because they are denying access to the systems, and access to imagery is not enough to get a complete total picture of what is happening.

I think your question is this: I think if I may, how does this help or how is this being used in Latin America? I think, first of all, I would say Latin America is not behind. There is no perception that Latin America is behind in any way. Everybody, I think, is starting to understand the value of how this information can be brought in. But I think one of the points I’ll make is that the biggest challenges are not technical, the biggest challenges are not really how the data is captured, how the data is shared, and what we can do. The biggest challenges are policy and governance and also how we manage to take advantage of the systems. So, one of our messages to people is this is not just a technology exercise, we want to help customers, we want to help users understand how they need to manage this technology. So it’s not just the operators that need to be educated, it’s the managers who need to understand what their staff are now capable of, and it’s the leaders and the commanders who need to understand how the technology can transform their organizations.

If I may I’ll give a really great example. Two years ago at this conference there was a Brazilian army general who was the third chief of staff for the Brazilian Army. He was in charge of doctrine and he came and saw the technology and he said, we need to adopt this technology for the Brazilian Army because my job in writing doctrine is to transform the Brazilian Army into a 21st century force. And he immediately saw the transformation capabilities. And in many ways he was the only one who saw it, there were other people here but he was the only one who immediately trusted that this was going to transform the use of intelligence information, it was going to transform their planning for operations, it was going to transform their ability to conduct operations and it was going to transform their ability share that information within command and control systems.

So, in terms of governing how the technology is adopted, leaders can’t delegate that to the technicians. They need to understand how it impacts their organizations, how it changes their organizations and they need to be involved. That’s why this conference, actually to me, is very mature. We have very senior officers here who are understanding and learning, they are not just delegating it to their information technology people and saying build me a faster car, or make the network faster. They are understanding what it means to be able to do this. So, the other part of governance is, as you start to create national security solutions, you need to bring in multiple departments, multiple agencies. We as a company, like our customers, used to be focused on specific departments or organizations. And now we understand that to protect our people, to protect our economy, our prosperity, our way of life, multiple people need to play into that: fireman, police, ambulance, emergency services, and national geospatial organizations. There are many implications that play into understanding the problems and how we will resolve them, and therefore there is a lot of information that needs to be gathered and shared.

So, one of the approaches years ago was to put all the information into one database. Well that doesn’t work anymore. People don’t want to give up their information. Information has different purposes and people need to maintain different data sets. So for many years, we in the industry and the community, tried to create what we often call the uber database, you know, the big database in the sky, and it failed. But what this made successful was the development of web technology, not necessarily the Internet, but the Internet standards and protocols that can operate on any network that has allowed people to share.

So I don’t have to give up my data to be able to share it with you. In fact, you don’t want me to give it up because maintaining the data is the biggest problem and if I can maintain it, you’ll want me to carry on doing that, but you do want me to share that data.

So, in emergency management and national security, one of the governance challenges is to decide what information is going to be shared by which organization. Who is going to be responsible for this, who is going to be responsible for that? And you end up having service level agreements between the organizations. So I ask the police to maintain the location of the police station and the details and I will maintain to this accuracy and I will update them to this frequency, where somebody else in the health organization will, say, ok, I’ll maintain the hospital’s database, somebody in the utilities might say, well I’m going to maintain all the power lines and you have to agree what information you are going to share. And this is especially true in places like Brazil, because disasters don’t recognize state boundaries.

So you have a multi-state problem, actually the state that might be the best to react, might be out of the emergency. So if you don’t have this ability to share information and understand the critical use of that information, then states can’t help each other, and you end up having the stop at the border because you don’t know what’s required or where to go.

So I think all countries now understand what technology can do, but they are starting the struggle to say how to govern it? What information do we need to capture? What do we all agree we are going to share? Or what do we all agree to capture? Who is responsible for what? What contracts are we going to agree to, like service level agreements, that allows us to share that information? So we all have a common understanding of what’s required or what’s there. So we have shared situation awareness.

Intelligence is just information that informs us to what’s happening, that can be intelligence for health, intelligence about a border, that can be intelligence about crime, drugs, human trafficking. Intelligence is not always about our neighbors; it’s about our own country. It’s about those organizations that have to maintain law and order, because without law and order we don’t have a civil society that can operate, it breaks down. It is about to being able to respond to disasters when they happen and in an emergency and manage the emergency services like the firemen, the police, and the ambulances.

It is also about the World Health Organization, particularly if we have pandemics, epidemics, and we are increasingly saying that with SARS, with Avian Flu and now with Ebola. We have to be able to share that information because it is no longer the responsibility of one organization; and the irony of this to me is that there is one organization I haven’t mentioned, and that’s defense. So actually in national security, in many ways, defense is the last line when all the other civilian organizations are exhausted or the threat is extreme. That is when defense comes in and supplements and if necessary deals with extreme threat.

So when we look at national security, we don’t start with defense, we actually start with the intelligence that informs us about what’s happening. The law enforcement that allows us to maintain the civil society and then the ability to deal with those issues through emergency management, emergency services and health, and only when things become desperate, then we really want to commit our defense forces. But they are the critical last resource when the threats are extreme. The military has some capabilities that nobody else has, but that’s the last resource. In other ways, the military is there to supplement emergency management, supplement emergency services because they have logistic capabilities. They have airlift, sealift, they have vehicles, and they have other resources. So when we look at national security and the policy issues, it doesn’t start with defense. In many ways defense is not last, but they are not first.

GEO: So, when we talk or think about security we are always thinking about army, air forces or illicit business. So in 2012 there were more displaced people by disaster than wars and international conflicts. The world faced very, very hard disasters than the last ten years, tsunamis, earthquakes, and terrible floods. Do you think that after these disasters, major disasters, the decision makers or the government are more concerned or more open to use intelligence for disaster management, or at least to avoid the displacement of the people?

John Day: I think first of all, we must stop thinking of national security as a military activity, it is not, in many ways in the US we coined the term “homeland security”, which we don’t really like because it doesn’t resonate globally, it confuses people. In many ways internal security is a better way of looking at it because internal means everything to our way of life and, the military are part of that and they are there to stop external threats, but national security is predominantly about internal security. So I think we need to change that mindset first of all. The other part of the question was …

GEO: Major disasters, do you think that after these disasters, major disasters, the decision makers or the government are more concerned or more open to use intelligence for disaster management?

John Day:I think they are more inclined to use technology, geospatial technology but part of the obstacle is being… the capabilities we are talking about they are still failing. The capabilities that allow people to easily discover information, to share information, to collaborate, to consume that on their mobile device, their tablet, they are still failing. And I think a part of the value of this conference is trying to educate people that many of the things they think they like to do, they can’t actually do.

I think there is an education we are still going through, a dramatic education phase because in the past 2 to 3 years we’ve been able to bring this technology to bear, beyond the analysts, beyond the very elite group of professionals. I think the decision makers and the policy makers are now beginning to, I wouldn’t say wake up, but they are now beginning to get educated. Comeback to my point, the leaders can’t transform if they don’t understand the capabilities, and I think that is beginning to happen. That is why a lot of what we do in Esri is help our customers. We were meeting with the Army on Tuesday and the reason for that meeting was not to get into the feature functions of software, but was to help them to understand the vision and how the vision for the technology could transform their organization.

Your question was specifically about intelligence, and intelligence is interesting because I worked quite a lot with NATO and the United Nations a while ago, and we were not allowed to use the word intelligence in the United Nations. We were not allowed to use the word intelligence, it was bad. United Nations would not deal with intelligence because it freaked out all the others countries if they thought one country was talking about intelligence, because it was such a dirty word, because intelligence was associated with foreign intelligence. And intelligence is just really information and now has value. So we often talk about raw data, you can turn that data into information but until it becomes actionable it’s not really intelligence. So intelligence is really just information and we have lots of information sources and we should be able to use them all, the fact that they become valuable to us and that we know what they mean, that’s called intelligence.

That does not mean this is about spying on people, it just means we now understand what’s the significance of these people gathering in that area or we understand the significance of the information and how it might impact our ability to conduct operations.

So the other thing about intelligence is that intelligence is not a discipline in its own right. It’s not a separate activity. The definition of intelligence in many ways is collection and analysis, it is about the ability to collect information and exploit it. But you don’t do that just because it’s interesting, you do it because you are going to provide that to decision makers whether they are political, economic, military, social, they are all decision makers. You are going to provide that information to people that are going to take action.

So, intelligence for intelligence sake alone, serves no purpose. The purpose of intelligence is to inform decision-making and operations. It’s something we need to get more comfortable with. When we say intelligence, just like when we talk about children who are intelligent, we wouldn’t say this, but we just say they are smart. People who know, really understand, information and draw reasonable conclusions from that are intelligent. So I think that’s where we need to look at in intelligence in a slightly different way.