GIS Helps Keep Participants Safe at London Olympics21 Nov, 2012 By: Kathi Ghannam
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency develops web mapping and analysis tools to enhance security during and after the event.
This summer, the world turned its attention to London as it hosted the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, which was one of the largest and most complex security operations ever undertaken. Although the event was held in the United Kingdom, America's National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) was right in the middle of the action. In collaboration with its domestic and international counterparts, NGA supplied products and services that helped British officials maintain a safe environment for attendees and athletes alike.
This effort began in early 2011, when NGA's Olympic Support Team called on the agency's research and development arm — the InnoVision Directorate — to develop and share technology to help protect the games. Collaborating with the technical lead for the Olympics' support mission in NGA's Analysis and Production Directorate (now the Directorate of Analysis), InnoVision delivered a set of simple yet versatile tools.
The first of these, Hermes, is a mobile and Web application package that enabled field agents to share their geographic positions and geotagged text and photos with other agents and their command post. This data enhanced security officials' ability to assess potential threats and respond to incidents as they arose.
"The Department of State liked Hermes because it allowed them to visualize where all their agents were," said InnoVision's lead Geospatial Intelligence Advancement Testbed (GIAT) developer for Hermes. "They really appreciated the increased degree of situational awareness that came with using Hermes."
Building on earlier prototypes, the GIAT developer team enhanced the user interface for both the mobile and Web applications, and added features to ensure basic functionality if an incident knocked mobile networks offline.
This screenshot depicts the Hermes Web application as it would appear in a browser on an operations center workstation. The blue diamonds indicate the positions of agents in the field running Hermes on their mobile devices. The map background can be sourced from OpenStreetMaps, as in the image above, or event-specific data, such as from the U.K.'s Ordnance Survey. Click image to enlarge.
A second tool gave Olympic support personnel a Web mapping application with integrated geospatial tools. This allowed them to view basemaps, imagery, and operational layers; plan routes to and from events and venues; customize and notate maps; and observe the status of the various Olympic venues over time, said the GIAT developer.
To achieve this, the GIS London development team had to overcome two big challenges: They had to create a country-wide basemap cache using data provided by the United Kingdom, and develop accurate locators and geocoding services for all of the address data they received, said another member of the GIAT.
"The U.K.'s addressing system is very different from what we use in the U.S.," said the GIAT team member. "Not every building is numbered. In some cases, building names or organizational names are used instead of, or in addition to, building numbers. Also, their address information came to us in the form of about 30 million separate data points. By working hand in hand with our colleagues in NGA's Eurasia-Africa Regional Operations group, however, we solved this [challenge and made] several other refinements along the way," said the GIAT team member.
The third tool provided a virtual environment in which users could walk and fly through the Olympic venues and surrounding areas and perform basic analytics. According to another GIAT team member, this was achieved by integrating spatial and temporal analysis tools developed in the GIAT with a commercial software package for creating 3D video games and other interactive content.
"By combining virtual environments with tools such as line-of-sight analysis and visualization of time-sensitive data, such as bus and train schedules and Olympic event times, users could assess venues and ongoing events as if they were there," said the second GIAT team member.
"This tool can be used to collaborate online or offline, whether on a standalone computer or as part of a network," said this second team member. "Probably more important to London's security officials was the fact that we designed the system so that you do not have to be a GIS expert to use it. The London Metropolitan Police, for example, could easily use this technology to enhance their situational awareness."
Providing support to the Olympics was just part of the mission for the InnoVision team, said the technical lead.
"We purposefully designed these tools for future reuse with a goal of building new processes and tools that could be used not only for the Olympics, but could also be integrated into our daily production processes, which is in fact happening," said the technical lead.
The Human Factor
Ten NGA analysts created at least 370 GEOINT (geospatial intelligence) products in support of the Olympics. Working around the clock for 28 straight days, NGA analysts were embedded alongside colleagues from the CIA, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's National Counterterrorism Center, the Departments of Defense and State, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Open Source Center, said NGA's Olympic support lead.
"We definitely couldn't have done this alone," said NGA's Olympic support lead. "The NGA team and our intelligence community and international partners did everything from VIP route analysis to tracking and reporting on planned protests and demonstrations. ... We received profuse appreciation from our British counterparts, particularly from the Production Coordination Group," she said.
The United Kingdom established the Production Coordination Group to coordinate the geospatial efforts of London's municipalities and national transportation entities.
"The products we created together helped British officials ensure the safety of athletes, guests and dignitaries from all over the world during the 14-day event," said the Olympic support lead.
Institutionalizing Lessons Learned
Though the Olympics have ended for this year, the event has helped NGA improve its processes.
"Building on lessons learned from each successive Olympic game since the 2002 Salt Lake City games, NGA's product line development and the tradecraft evolution have been remarkable," said the Olympic support lead.
She points out the need to institutionalize some of the best practices developed during the Olympics so that they can be applied to future events.
"With more than 150 NGA employees having touched the planning process somehow, we now have many seasoned professionals who've participated in the games," said the Olympic support lead. "It would be helpful if we could capitalize on their knowledge and put together a core group of folks dedicated to doing special events. We are now doing just that, looking at the ways we might possibly leverage this information across the agency and across the international and intelligence communities."
Editor's Note: A longer version of this article was published in the November/December 2012 issue of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's (NGA) Pathfinder magazine.
In her easy-to-follow, friendly style, long-time Cadalyst contributing editor Lynn Allen guides you through a new feature or time-saving trick in every episode of her popular AutoCAD Video Tips. Subscribe to the free Cadalyst Video Picks newsletter, and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!