Home Articles GIS in Homeland Security: An Indian Perspective

GIS in Homeland Security: An Indian Perspective

Major Sunil Mishra
General Staff Officer Grade 2
Additional Directorate General, Information Systems
Army Headquarters.
Email : [email protected]

1. The events of 9/11 clearly illustrated that no nation, however powerful it may be, is immune to acts of terror. While US did have a large and modern infrastructure working for it, it could do little to prevent this attack. All over the world, threats from terrorism, drug cartels and organized crimes have been increasing at an alarming rate. The most serious has been the threat from terrorism. Recent years have seen the hub of terrorism shifting from Middle East to central Asia and spreading on to Europe and South Asia. What was once a game to the superpowers is now threatening to become their nemesis. While dealing with terrorists in some other country is easy to explain to the citizens, dealing with the same threat in homeland is a different issue. Post 11 September, USA has single mindedly pursued an agenda to improve its homeland security. It went ahead establishing the Department of Homeland Security in Nov 2002 which merges under one roof the capability to anticipate, preempt and deter threats to the homeland whenever possible, and the ability to respond quickly when such threats do materialize. It is also responsible for assessing the vulnerabilities of the nation’s critical infrastructure and cyber security threats and takes the lead in evaluating these vulnerabilities and coordinating with other federal, state, local, and private entities to ensure the most effective response. India, having faced this threat for such a long time should have been in a better position to deal with threats to our internal security. Sadly that does not seem to be the case. This is despite having a large intellectual reserve in the country, some of whom have contributed immensely to the development of technology being used by Americans to ensure homeland security. While internal security has many facets to it, maintenance of law and order, including dealing with terrorism is one of the major factors that affect internal security.

2. India has been facing this menace for a very long time, be it the North East, Punjab or Kashmir or the bomb blasts and communal riots in various parts of the country. In spite of the best efforts by the government, real cohesion between various agencies is still lacking as is the availability of critical data. For any law enforcement agency, accessible timely and accurate information is of prime importance. This is also true for the decision making bodies. In spite of the best efforts not to utilize the armed forces in internal security, there have been instances when army has to be called in to deal with a specific situation. In many such cases, the army does not have sufficient data since it primarily collects data pertaining to the border areas or regions where army is present for a long term. Thus, army is dependent on data in terms of intelligence, communications and geospatial intelligence on the local administration. Apart from army, even other Central Police Organisations could be called in to deal with local situation. A case in point is the terrorist attack on Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar where NSG had to be called in. It is obvious that critical data would have been made available to NSG by the local administration. But was this data readily available?, were the architectural plans of the temple complex available to NSG before its teams left New Delhi? These are some of the questions that come to the mind whenever an incidence like this happens. It is primarily the responsibility of the local administration to make relevant data including maps available to agency being tasked to deal with this type of situation. But this can only be possible if we have a ready database available. This paper aims to highlight the relevance of GIS in making this type of data available to all users.

What is the Threat
3. The major threats to homeland arise from acts of terror, organized crimes, riots, cyber attacks and natural disasters. The acts of terror could be perpetuated by terrorists who believe in no national boundaries or from ethnic insurgents. The acts of terror also include triggering off communal riots or disruption of essential services leading to a state of chaos. It is therefore necessary to identify our vulnerabilities before chalking out plans to deal with such threats. Our vulnerabilities include both public and private infrastructure. These could be broadly defined as follows :-

  1. Critical Government Infrastructure. Our installations dealing with strategic assets, airfields, Dams, power generation plants, defence installations, fuel reserves etc. are some of the assets that are likely to be threatened.
  2. Information Infrastructure. It is difficult to imagine what would happen if the computerized rail reservation system was to go down. Yet this is one service that any potential hacker would like to bring down. As we move to adopt e-governance, our vulnerabilities also increase. Our information infrastructure is more and more vulnerable to cyber attacks which could disrupt essential services leading even to loss of life and property.
  3. Sensitive Areas. Though we are a secular country, communal tensions are as old as independent India. Even cast violence has taken a major toll on the society. The demography patterns, scale of development, socio economic structure, all constitute to define likely areas where trouble can erupt. Invariably, year after year, it is these areas from where the trouble emanates. It does not take much to trigger of chaos in these areas. These are also high population density areas where even a minor attack pays rich dividends to terrorists. Apart from these, places of worship, crowded markets with poor civic planning, public places and other areas that attract a large crowd are sensitive to threats from anti social elements/ terrorists.
  4. People. Citizens are the ultimate target of any threat. Loss of life makes great media impact and provide adequate propaganda to the terrorists, while showing the administration in poor light.


4. It is evident that the threats to our vulnerabilities are immense and need to be tackled in a coordinated manner to prevent loss of life or property. Some of the means to deal with the threats are enumerated below:-

  1. Deterrence. India shares 14,103 km of land border which includes 4,053 km with Bangladesh, 605 km with Bhutan, 1,463 km with Burma, 3,380 km with China, 1,690 km with Nepal and 2,912 km with Pakistan. It also has a 7,000 km coastline that has to be guarded. Keeping out elements that are a threat to our security over such a large border is not an easy task. Enhanced surveillance coupled with certain population control measures are required to be put in place to check the movement of undesirable elements. No doubt some of these measures may seem to be an invasion of privacy; nevertheless the government will always have to strike a fine balance between individual freedom and legal restrictions to ensure internal security.
  2. Prevention. Better intelligence and basic security measures can help tremendously in preventing such threats. This would also include the elimination of the threat itself by preemptive means either in India or across.
  3. Response. In spite of the above measures, threats could still materialize and would require dealing with law and order, anti terrorist operations, hostage rescue and treatment of wounded.
  4. Restoration. After the threat has been dealt with, the situation has to be restored and normalcy brought back. This may include reconstruction work to restore the essential services.

5. There are various agencies that play a part in dealing with the threats to homeland security. Some of these are:-

  1. Civil Administration.
  2. Intelligence Community.
  3. Central Police Organisations.
  4. Armed Forces.
  5. Medical Services.

6. It is imperative that these agencies are able to coordinate their activities to be able to respond to any threats to the internal security. While issues such as sharing of information and other resources have been highlighted time and again, at ground level these measures are not visible. Unless our law enforcement agencies adopt a joint approach to collection, collation and dissemination of data, homeland security will just remain a dream.

How does GIS Help
7. We have come a long way since the first film of USSR, taken from space by the US satellite CORONA, was delivered through a canister in 1960. Sub meter resolution imagery is available and coupled with modern survey techniques; it is now possible to create large maps at individual house scales. Digitised maps using specific overlays could provide immense decision making tools to collect, collate and analyse information comprehensively. For urban areas, information such as population density, crowd patterns, road density, emergency services and demographic pattern are very crucial in deployment of critical resources in case of a terrorist attack. Creating a database of all fixed line telephones including public call offices (PCOs) would make tracking of suspected calls more efficient. Similarly, Cell phones and vehicles with integrated GPS would provide precise location of personnel and vehicles being used by undesirable elements. These type of visual databases not only assist in predicting threats and evaluating likely responses but also assist in removing the threat so as to minimize loss of life and property. GIS will assist in generating 3 Dimensional views and fly through models, situational updates in real time by employing UAVs/ other aerial sensors which will come in handy to brief the personnel dealing with any crisis. Some of the areas in which GIS can assist the government agencies are as follows:-

  1. Locating Potential Hot Spots. Thematic maps could be used to predict likely sensitive points/ areas and the infrastructure available to deal with any crisis in those areas. Data of surface communication, telephone communications, and demographic pattern can all be used to predict sensitivity of a locality in relation to a given time. For example, a shopping mall has a high population density in the evening but is empty in the early hours of the day whereas a call centre has high population density during nights.
  2. Quick Reaction. Timely employment of resources is crucial in dealing with such threats. Various agencies have to respond to such threats. Depending on the type of threat, one or several of these agencies may have to move to the location in quickest timeframe. GIS can assist in analyzing the available resources and time that they will take to respond, thereby assisting in decision making.
  3. Coordination of Resources. Various agencies could be involved in such situations like the local police, fire fighters, medical teams etc. Using GPS enabled hand held devices; employment of these personnel can be coordinated so as to avoid duplicity and fratricide. The troops involved could also be briefed about the situation on 3 dimensional virtual models created by using the architectural drawings and high resolution imagery regarding their areas of responsibility.
  4. Traffic Management and Setting up Road Blocks. There would be a need to divert traffic away from the scene of incidence as well as the need to prevent the miscreants getting away. GIS can greatly assist analyzing the surface and subsurface communications available in the given area to effectively manage this aspect.
  5. Medical Support and Rescue Work. Data about availability of medical facilities in the near vicinity of the scene of incidence will greatly assist in quicker response time. Further, the ability to track ambulances, locate health workers and doctors and blood banks can ensure a better medical support. It is also extremely important that people carrying out rescue are not unduly endangered. Use of GIS can assist in analyzing structural damages, collateral damages and other inputs which could assist in rescue efforts. For example, layout of the underground sewage pipes and tunnels could be used to reach areas inaccessible from usual entrance.
  6. Restoration. Restoration of normalcy after any such attacks is critical. This would include restoration of essential services like telecom, water supply, electricity and other services. Reconstruction is another aspect which will have to be considered under restoration. GIS can greatly assist in these functions by analyzing the extent of destruction and collateral damages.

8. To be able to effectively exploit the potential of GIS, data bases will have to be created and made available to all the user agencies. This may have to be implemented over a national network. A point to note here is that no single agency can on its own implement this solution. While Survey of India can provide the base data, other agencies will be required to compliment this data by their own ground surveys. Therefore, all agencies responsible for dealing with issues related to homeland security will have to switch over to GIS to be able to add & extract data as applicable. This undoubtedly would require a high standard of interoperability. No particular developer can think that a country will adopt his product across the board. Different agencies may adopt different applications customized to their specific requirements. But in case these various solutions are unable to speak with each other in a common language, the system will not take off. One solution to resolve this issue is development of an indigenous GIS. Another alternative is implementation of open standards. The industry and the academia will have to play a major role in resolving this issue.

9. Incidences like the Hazaratbal crisis or incidence in Charar –e-Sherif or the Bombay Bomb Blasts probably could have been tackled in a better manner if GIS based models were used. It is still not too late to implement GIS in the country. The country must move beyond basic cartographic applications to an integrated GIS solution which can assist in all aspects of national security, including homeland security, in a more efficient manner. One can not deny the fact that in the coming years, GIS is going to play a major role in E-governance. India should not find itself lagging in this field. Our Academia and the industry should come forward and assist the government in exploiting the full potential of this technology.