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The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Intelligence Community are in urgent need of innovative ways to quickly query and display geospatially relevant data. With ongoing operations on every continent and in almost every country, America’s national security apparatus is awash in raw data, threat reporting, and vulnerability statistics. In most cases all relevant friendly and threat reporting cannot be recalled and overlaid swiftly enough to keep pace with operations on the ground. Overcoming the obstacles currently standing in the way of battlefield collaboration and visualization is quickly becoming a strategic imperative for America’s law enforcement, military and intelligence leaders.
As an Intelligence Officer with the United States Air Force since 2005 I have had the opportunity to travel the world and work in many different facets of the defense and intelligence communities. While the technology on display at Where 2.0 is truly revolutionary, it is futuristic, mind-boggling and inconceivable to many stakeholders within the federal government. The GIS software and hardware projects being developed in the private sector are truly decades ahead of many systems currently being used to manage this nation’s defense, security, and law enforcement apparatuses. New solutions are desperately needed to maintain America’s strategic advantage and help public agencies operate more efficiently in times of shrinking budgets and constricting workforces.
By numbers alone the Department of Defense is a staggeringly substantial organization. Made up of over 1.4 million uniformed personnel and another 600,000 civilian employees, the defense establishment is spread worldwide across 800 different installations. Each and every day the U.S. Navy sails nearly 500 commissioned ships throughout the world’s oceans and the U.S. Air Force flies 7500 active aircraft all over the globe. There are almost an infinite number of relevant mash-ups that could be compiled from those statistics alone. Amazingly, those types of customizable location tools are not in wide use within defense community. Traditional ways of tracking operations are often cumbersome and slow.
This unique paradigm presents a tremendous opportunity for neogeographers to improve the efficiency of government, a natural goal of all taxpayers, while protecting American democracy from domestic and international threats, and generating a handsome profit. The key to seizing these prospects is understanding the challenges within the government’s system so that relevant solutions can be pitched to the right stakeholders within the bureaucracy. I hope to provide insight into this through my presentation.
In December of 2006 I embarked on a professional expedition to improve my small corner of the government though collaboration, distributive problem solving, and the visualization of geospatial data. My coworkers and I have undertaken an innovative project to geocode and plot analytical products and to make military commanders more location aware. This eighteen month mash-up initiative, affectionately nicknamed The Intersect, has been demonstrated around the world and has produced great demand for migrating data to geobrowsers. Throughout this journey I have chronicled the types of chokepoints that are holding back government synergy.
The major roadblocks to proficient government collaboration are plentiful:
· Disparate data presents the risk that fielded military units will not get the predictive analysis they need to effectively counter this nation’s enemies. The military has been publishing material in PowerPoint slides and PDFs for years and today that historic data is not easily recalled and indexed for fast querying.
· Proprietary data warehouses have made cross-referencing information difficult. For years the defense department bought custom solutions for cataloging information. Today those archaic systems have spawned access, redundancy, and latency issues across the bureaucracy. New solutions are needed to meld, combine and overlay data against geobrowsers.
· Legacy hardware and software presents the risk of constricting innovation and cooperation. The enemy is not limited by archaic technology; they take advantage of the free market to purchase cutting edge communication, surveillance, and visualization tools. The U.S. military should not be unnecessarily restricted either. Overcoming this technological void is a strategic imperative for the U.S. military. In June of 2007 the Navy was the first of the armed services to seize on to the new digital century by mandating open source software become the standard for all future acquisitions and development programs.
· 3D modeling is becoming essential to both civilian and military responses to critical incidents. How could a virtual understanding of the layout of the Taj and Oberoi hotels in November of 2008 have enabled Indian security forces to more quickly neutralize the terrorists who were roaming the building killing innocent civilians? As local, state, and federal budgets become constricted during this time of economic uncertainty, the funds necessary to facilitate joint training and exercises is being reduced. New virtual collaboration is becoming a viable alternative to real-world disaster drills. In August of 2008 I was an observer for a mass casualty drill in downtown San Francisco. That one day exercise involved 42 agencies and cost over $250,000. I would assess that the same effects could have been achieved in a virtual realm at a lower cost, with more opportunity for administrators to visualize strategic level problems and understand organizational limitations.
· In order to improve America’s ability to recognize and subvert potential hazards to the country, the Department of Homeland Security has facilitated the creation of 50 state and regional intelligence fusion centers to analyze and act on threat reporting. These agencies are faced with the challenge of collating reporting from over 18,000 law enforcement agencies to find the trace clues which may uncover asymmetric plotting. Amazingly, many of these organizations are not using any sort of mash-up functionality to find geographic significance within their message traffic.
I have personally seen the hunger within the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Department of Defense for new location aware tools. As American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines have been exposed to this technology at home they have naturally started to demand the same capabilities on the battlefield. America needs innovative, enterprising, and ambitious developers and entrepreneurs to think about government as a potential customer. Unlike stereotypes from decades past, government contracting and acquisitions professionals will not judge any developer or salesperson with a viable solution on the length of their hair, their political affiliation or the hours they keep. America’s government needs a technology overhaul and cannot afford to overlook any good idea.
I would go one step further and say that each of us has a duty to help preserve Western democracy’s egalitarian legacy. America’s great free market of ideas has enabled the type of innovation presented at Where 2.0 and all those who have benefited from it can give back by considering Uncle Sam as a customer. This is a unique opportunity to be patriotic and earn a profit!
In conclusion, every hardware and software solution being developed to catalog, warehouse, and display geospatially relevant information likely has a pertinent military or intelligence application. From location aware cell phone applications to geostacking and immersive imagery, the defense and intelligence communities may be viable secondary and tertiary markets for established corporate and consumer products.
First Lieutenant Sean Maday is an Intelligence Officer in the United States Air Force. While assigned to Air Mobility Command Lieutenant Maday has worked tirelessly to implement Web 2.0 solutions and data visualization tools to unlock the enterprise capabilities of the defense and intelligence communities. His efforts to develop mash-ups within the Air Force intelligence community have been showcased to strategic and tactical units all over the world. Lieutenant Maday has a BA in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University and will complete his MS in Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis later this year. Before entering the Air Force Lieutenant Maday worked as a software developer and Internet entrepreneur. Lieutenant Maday was an attendee at the 2008 Where 2.0 conference.
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