DHS steps up efforts to integrate geospatial apps

The Geospatial Management Office wants to integrate DHS' many disparate GIS programs, such as those in use at the Homeland Security Operations Center, and create common tools for users departmentwide.

The Homeland Security Department this summer will experience a geospatial revolution of sorts.

Officials said three major projects are teed up to add geographic information system capabilities to protect airports and seaports, to improve case management for border patrol agents and to launch an agencywide portal.

The department's Geospatial Management Office is overseeing the technology's implementation. The office will lead activities in the field, establish policies and plans, and 'build out the geospatial view of the enterprise architecture,' chief technology officer Lee Holcomb said.

Holcomb described the GIS layer as a lens through which to view information. 'It's looking at the enterprise architecture from the perspective of: 'If I wanted to do a function and use geospatial technology, what would I have to do to use geospatial technology properly?' '

The department's fiscal 2006 budget request calls for the geospatial office to receive about $13 million, a $5.3 million increase over this year.

Across the department, 67 of DHS' 77 business functions use geospatial information, according to budget documents, so the department's total spending on the technology is much larger, Holcomb said.

DHS initiated the three projects last summer when it awarded a 1-year, $10-million contract to Northrop Grumman Corp. The contract has four one-year options.

One project is intended to create a common operating picture across the federal organizations running south Florida's seaports and airports.

The Transportation Security Agency Initial Operational Situation Awareness Capability will give users a common picture that includes real-time wireless tracking of planes and ships via Global Positioning System devices. The app is scheduled to go live in June.

The tools

Dave Baxter, manager of Northrop Grumman's GeoWireless program, said the south Florida project would use the ArcSDE spatial database engine from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. It also will include a secure broadband wireless network from IPWireless Inc. of New Orleans and the TerraBuilder 3-D visualization application from Skyline Software Systems Inc. of Woburn, Mass.
'The system integrates video, gives collaborative capabilities, does blue-force tracking, integrates a weather information feed and provides a live aviation feed,' Baxter said.

Blue-force tracking is a troop-monitoring tool created by the Defense Department that lets users follow movements of their groups and others in a specified geographic area. Users will be able to access the information via cell phones and ruggedized personal data assistants, Baxter said.

The south Florida TSA system also will let users model the track of a plume'for example, of a toxic cloud'as it approaches high-risk sites such as schools, Baxter said.

A second project involves geospatially enabling the Enforcement Case Management System used by the Border and Transportation Security Directorate's Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies. Officials use ENFORCE to record arrests of illegal border crossers.

Under the project, Northrop Grumman will add a mapping interface and equip it with a wireless capability.

'The system will allow border patrol agents to fix the GPS coordinates of an apprehension,' Baxter said. 'This will allow them to do trend analysis and better marshal their resources.'

DHS plans to activate the ENFORCE geospatial capability in September.

Project officials will supplement it with Oracle Application Server MapViewer, a Java Enterprise Edition service that is part of the system's Oracle 10g database management system. The MapViewer tool is not GIS in itself but will let users view geospatial information via ESRI and Skyline applications, as well as other GIS systems.

Baxter said the MapView tool can also exchange geospatial data with Red Spider Studio and other apps provided by Ionic Enterprise of Alexandria, Va., for the third project, under which Northrop Grumman will develop a Geospatial Service Center.

'We are fielding a next-generation Web portal' via the center, Holcomb said.

The portal will provide geospatial information to DHS agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Homeland Security Operations Center.

The Web portal will comply with standards of the Open Geospatial Consortium Inc. of Wayland, Mass., and the Federal Geographic Data Committee, and be made available to DHS users at a sensitive but unclassified security level, Baxter said. It will be ready in late June.

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