Mitigate homeland security threats with location-based analytics, says global expert

Sep 29, 2016

Singapore’s national security threats can be significantly mitigated by using big data and location-based analytics, according to a renowned homeland security expert.

Singapore’s national security threats can be significantly mitigated by using Big Data and location-based analytics, according to a renowned homeland security expert.

“Given the increasing complexity of challenges brought about by transnational security issues, devastating natural calamities, disease outbreaks, and terror threats – the preparedness of homeland security organisations in the region has been placed under immense scrutiny,” said Russ Johnson, the global homeland security expert at world-leading location-based analytics company Esri.

Mr Johnson’s comments come following a recent warning from Singapore Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam indicating Singapore and the broader region is increasingly becoming a terror target.

"The threat of a terror attack here is at its highest level in recent times, much more so than after 9/11, and the arrest of Jemaah Islamiah members," Minister K. Shanmugam said in a recent interview with local media.

"It is no longer a question of whether an attack will take place, but really, when is an attack going to take place. And we have to be prepared for that."

Mounting threats of terror attacks in the region have prompted many decision-makers in the public safety and emergency services space to explore new technologies, such as advanced location-based analytics, to enhance the capabilities of their surveillance network and emergency response teams.

“With this technology, organisations can easily integrate and analyse multiple data sources – such as incident locations, offender data, camera and social media feeds – to create a dynamic map-based view of information, which provides local authorities with access to data critical in mitigating, preparing for, and responding to complex incidents,” Mr Johnson said. 

“In addition, the technology can help local authorities effectively track and monitor persons of interest, understand where unusual activities are taking place, and in collaboration with the commercial sector, analyse and investigate unusual financial transactions.

“These insights strengthen the focus of surveillance efforts in areas where there is a high risk of terror attacks, allowing homeland security agencies to ensure they are prepared to efficiently mobilise resources to those locations to not only respond to but also deter any terror attacks.”

In the United States, Mr Johnson has supported a number of fusion centres – created under the US Department of Homeland Security – which collect, analyse and share threat-related information within the federal, state and local governments.

Multidisciplinary fusion centres have been important in providing expertise, intelligence and situational awareness to frontline law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency response, public health and private sector security personnel.

“Data fusion involves using location-based analytics to integrate, analyse and share data across networks that support multi-agency law enforcement, homeland security and public safety organisations, in an effort to mitigate and respond to crime and terrorism,” he said.

“Fusion centres, generate dynamic maps that provide layers of detailed insights, including population demographics, infrastructure at risk, and crime and incident patterns as they develop. 

Mr Johnson explained that by doing so, fusion centre personnel are able to immediately visualise vulnerable critical infrastructure and densely populated public gathering locations they need to protect before an incident and respond to when emergency occurs.

They can also identify and prioritise potential threats – both environmental and man-made – and develop comprehensive plans for evacuations, containment and mitigation.

Through this effort, Mr Johnson said local authorities are better able to effectively pre-empt criminal activities and execute a well-coordinated response that sees agencies mobilise the right resources at the right place and time.

“This could be a very valuable approach for a country such as Singapore, particularly as location-based analytics technology is already widely used across many of the country’s government departments and national security agencies,” Mr Johnson said.

He also underscored the importance of providing the public with tools that allow them to share valuable information with relevant local authorities.

“A number of terror attacks and crimes have been mitigated by collecting public observations from platforms such as Twitter, and other social media,” Mr Johnson said.

“This crowdsourced information is pulled from various sources, integrated with other information (incident reports, sensor information, etc.) and visualised on a map, which can then be quickly shared with the appropriate law enforcement, public safety and homeland security agencies – as part of efforts to prepare, mitigate and respond to potential threats in the community or national security.”