NGA’s Map of the World Vision and Geospatial Data

Published on March 24, 2014

The era of seeing a map of the world in a static, two-dimensional form is quickly going by the wayside. When National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Letitia Long refers to the “Map of the World” these days, the capital letters apply, but the term static no longer does.

More than developing its Map of the World, NGA is evolving it into a digital platform for geospatial intelligence that is both dynamic and ubiquitous. It’s a big data compendium that has survived the challenge of migrating information from systems across the Intelligence Community (IC) into a common exchange and integrating many networks into a single set built to be user-friendly.

“In the past, you had to access multiple databases and search by hand for hours, sometimes even days, to find our information,” Long told the Esri Federal GIS Conference in Washington this February. “First, you had to know where to look. And I tell you, that doesn’t cut it today in our rapidly changing world. Customers need immediate access.”

Access to the Map of the World is through the Globe, a Web portal that eventually will be the point of entry for all intelligence information. The Map of the World is a two-way street that both provides intelligence needed for successful military missions and accepts intelligence generated by those missions and other less structured sources, including social media.

Its dynamic status cannot be overstated. There will be “multiple updates (of images) expected every week,” according to an NGA document seeking potential contractors for orthoimagery for the map, as reported in an October story in USA Today.

“The Map of the World is not only a service but a conduit to produce standard products for the future,” John Goolgasian, who heads up the project for NGA, told U.S. Geospatial Foundation’s GEOINTeraction in January. “It’s a way to provide simplistic data and bring it straight to the defense and intelligence communities.”

But its value goes beyond the classified realm. During Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November, NGA created an “event page” on its website. The page used unclassified data from the Map of the World and enabled disaster responders to access it. It also allowed them to request other data and submit their own data in real time.

“For the first time, working under an agreement with the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development, we were able to give the Red Cross open access to our information,” Long said at the February conference. “Their field teams downloaded our data onto their tablets and smartphones to improve the accuracy of their ground troops and, as important, they were able to update those assessments as they worked. They were producers, and we were able to serve that back out to a broader community.”

Long said that better identity management tools would help make sure the right people get access to the right information.

Developing the tools to support the mobility inherent in a dynamic compendium of data is a large part of what we do at Thermopylae. Our Ubiquity framework is designed to create those tools on the fly with a focus on geocentric functionality, distributing data across a wide range of users.

The Map of the World is designed to offer data in such a way that it can be visualized by users, providing context. The pairing of context with data is critical to decision-making which is why Thermopylae is so focused on developing tools that help connect the two together.

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