Exclusive: How technology is used to predict and prevent terror attacks

Hexagon Geospatial President Mladen Stojic speaks to WION at GeoSpatial World Forum 2017 in Hyderabad. Photograph:( WION )

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 27, 2017, 10.10 AM (IST) Ankit Tuteja

(This interview is a joint work of Sahil Maniktala and Ankit Tuteja.)

Terrorism is a menace that needs to be rooted out and in today’s world, data analytics might be the first line of defence in the fight against terrorism. WION speaks to Hexagon Geospatial President Mladen Stojic at the recently-concluded Geospatial World Forum 2017, to get insights into how geospatial technology and big data are used to combat terrorism.

WION: Any terror attack has a planned cycle. It has certain trends, it has certain patterns. So our question to you is what is the role of GIS, and what is the role of geospatial technologies when it comes to identifying these trends. And once these trends are identified, can it actually predict terror?

Mladen Stojic: Absolutely. So, GIS and geospatial technologies are really at the core of understanding activities as they occur in real time. Everything has a location. So, when it comes to fighting crime and providing security solutions, it’s imperative that crime analysts and intelligence agencies have an ability to understand, and look back at trends to understand what was or what occurred to model what is happening by getting real time data - whether it be through social media, whether it be through phone calls, whether it be through other inputs - and lastly, to model what should be or what can be. So that’s when we start getting into analysis, particularly spatial analysis. So, we start looking at spatial trends, crime trends incidents as they come in, let’s say, from computer-aided dispatch system and/or from police systems. All of these come together and location is core because everything that comes in has a location. And by understanding the location of activities, you can then start making smart decisions.

WION: Can you give us some examples of when geospatial technologies have actually helped in predicting terror?

Stojic: I can’t mention specific examples because some of our customers are classifieds. They have our software solutions, but I can say this public information we have. Global organisations, police departments use our technologies ranging from let’s say, computer-aided dispatch systems where call centres that receive incoming calls regarding an event or an incident occurring. They log those calls, they record an incident. Those incidents then get fed into, let’s say dispatched to police officers in the field. And then that police officer goes to respond to an event occurring. That’s very common. And once again, location is at the core and and at the centre of making all that possible because you have to know where you are in order to determine where to go and what needs to happen from there.

WION: So what are the areas of GIS applications in counterterrorism? Can you walk us through that?

Stojic: Some of the common applications involve let’s say, crime and analysis. So we have many agencies that look at historical trends. They look at let’s say, on a given 7-day week, when do crimes occur. Typically, they occur late in the evenings. Okay. Where do they occur. Is there some frequency in which they occur? What types of crime occur? All of these inputs basically are used as a foundation to better determine where to place police officers so that you can actually prevent crimes from happening. So that is where we start getting into predictive analytics where we get business intelligence from historical data so we c

an actually shape smart change and actually influence a positive outcome looking forward.

WION: India has seen its fair share of terror acts, fair share of terrorism and the Indian government has always maintained that Pakistan harbours terrorism, they are exporting terrorism. Have you worked with any Indian authority in dealing with the fight against terrorism?

Stojic: So most recently, Hexagon has been working on two Dial 100 projects in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. These are two very recent activities that Hexagon has been involved with - particularly around these dial centres. So when calls come in they can be logged, they can be organised and ultimately dispatched, meaning officers can be dispatched in the field.

We also work heavily in supporting the general mapping. So, a lot of our software applications are used to produce mapping data - data that can ultimately be used to help fight terrorism. And that is largely used by defence and intelligence agencies.

India is on that cusp right now in its history of making decisions regarding data availability and data privacy,
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WION: You spoke about geospatial technology and crime analysis, tell us about some of the products that Hexagon is working on when it comes to identifying crimes, when it comes to analysing crimes. Tell us a little bit about that.

Stojic: One product that we just recently introduced is called Incident Analyser. It is an application that allows you to do two things. You can look at just data coming in from multiple sources, you can look at that data in relation to where those policers officers are, and you can start breaking down incidents in terms of trends. You can look at heat maps, you can look at different visuals, representations of crime data, of incident data, thereby allowing you to make more intelligent decisions on where to let’s say, place police officers or security officials. Because if you know what happened and if you know what was, then you understand what is and what can be and what should be.

So, we are really focused, particularly with this new product Incident Analyser, in giving the crime analysts tools to not only understand what occurred, but ultimately influence what can be. So, that involves analysis, visualising the data in different ways, looking at even things like the response time - how long did it take from a phone call being made to a police office actually being deployed in field - in order to respond to a crime. And every police department’s effort is to reduce that average response time so that officers can, in fact, be deployed much sooner and ultimately save lives and protect lives.

WION: Also, we believe Hexagon is focusing on smart city projects in India. What more can you tell us on that front?

Stojic: There is a lot of activity with regards to smart cities. Smart cities is a very broad topic. If you look at smart cities, you can focus on several things, at least things worth focused on - safe city. So that is what we look at - public safety and security. You could look at smart transportation. How to manage traffic. And that is where you start getting a sense of fusion with video surveillance, with traffic lights, road network management, infrastructure management, asset management, bridges, roads, pipes, utilities. Then you start looking at smart metre, utility networks, how is power used.

So, smart city is a very broad topic. We are involved in every aspect of that topic because we believe that the software is needed to map a city in three dimensions and then analyse pretty solutions to leverage that 3D data in order to build smart applications.  

And we recently launched a new platform called smart map which is M.App. It delivers apps for smart cities so that citizens with e-governance and software can be engaged in a smart city because that is effectively the goal of a smart city - to support citizen engagement to improve the lives of citizens within that city.

WION: India is a very dynamic country, infrastructure is always being changed. There are new roads, new highways being constructed. From a data perspective, do you think that is a challenge or an opportunity?

Stojic: I think it is an opportunity. With a lot of change, you require a lot of data. With a lot of data, you then have the big data problem. You have so much data. How do you know what data to use for what particular application or use case. We see that as an opportunity because you know to use that data, that data has got to be managed. Hence, the cloud, where we have the ability to manage a lot of data and ultimately the ability to serve that data or at least, deliver that data through analytics to different users who have different needs with that data. We definitely see that as an opportunity, and a country like India is experiencing so much positive change, new data is always being collected. From the space, from the air, from the ground. All that data needs to come together. And we see that as an opportunity - not only the collective data, but to alsodeliver applications and solutions that use that data to support different solutions.
 
WION: Big data is a catch-all term. From the perspective of its partnership with GIS, what can you tell us on that? Is that a bright future we are looking at? Do they both complement each other?

Stojic: Absolutely, I think big data is much bigger than GIS. When we talk about big data, it is let’s say, satellites continuously flying over India and collecting new data. These data are huge. We are talking about petabytes, terabytes of content being collected. And on top of that, all the social media data, utility data - when you put it all together, that’s really big data and analytics is really critical because with analytics, you have the ability to pull the necessary data needed in order to run processing capabilities and downstream information services. Big data, for us, is more than just GIS or geospatial. Anything that has to do with location, we see that as an opportunity.

WION: India has released the first draft of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016. How do you think - if it gets passed - will impact India’s national security? Should we be concerned?

Stojic: India is on that cusp right now in its history of making decisions regarding data availability, data privacy, how is data used. We look at data as an opportunity. And when you make decisions regarding the usage of data, particularly with privacy associated with it, you can err on the side of caution and have fear to direct decisions, or you look at opportunities. I am more of an optimist, I look at opportunities.

If we look at other countries around the world, open data standards have been deployed. Certainly, not all data is open. There certainly has to be some level of scrutiny and caution, but I think, moving towards society where data can be made available to the public to support citizen engagement will open up many more opportunities to bolster an economy, to have new companies, and to bolster a society where citizens become engaged in the use of that data, and experience and participate not only in the city, but also in growing that nation. And I think open data and using data is a very critical step towards that path.

(WION)