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National Security Drives Growth for GIS Professionals in Government Sector

Geographic information systems (GIS) is a technology that uses location to bring different types of data together. One of the most important markets for the technology is the government, where it has quickly become the backbone for U.S. national security and a key driver of the technology’s growth.

One forecast estimates a compound annual growth rate of 11 percent from 2011 to 2015 and it’s a trend that offers significant career opportunities for professionals with a GIS master’s degree.

“Much of the work in GIS related to homeland security involves data synthesis, exploratory data analysis and scenario modeling efforts to produce optimal routes that minimize risk by identifying emerging patterns and trends in the data,” say Dr. Stephen McElroy, GIS program chair for American Sentinel University.

Officials found that GIS technology can quickly render one to several layers of digital geospatial data – such as the movement of people, location of potential targets, identification of key natural resources – into map-like products for a wide range of relevant geospatial analyses.

The government relies on these systems and technology professionals who know how to use them to access and process digital geospatial data virtually anywhere to instantly transmit from wherever it’s maintained and stored to any place where it’s needed to gain insight into potential dangers.

McElroy notes that the ability to discriminate among a wide range of data inputs to create a meaningful action plan using GIS is critical to maintaining the safety and security of personnel.

GIS for intelligence applications extends beyond mobility operations, so an individual with some military training or knowledge and an advanced education in geospatial theory and practice is well-positioned to seek meaningful employment opportunities in the broad field of homeland security,” adds Dr. McElroy.

GIS allows governments to create systems to perform rapid analysis on intelligence to improve threat, risk and vulnerability assessments and more effectively plan for emergencies and respond to them.

Here are five ways the government is using GIS technology:

  • Detection – GIS can help to link information in time and space and quickly.
  • Preparedness – When teams respond to an emergency – an attack or natural disaster – having all the relevant data for a specific geographic location can improve the ability of teams to respond.
  • Prevention – Knowledge of borders and geographic features can help officials take action against the detected early stages of an attack and prevent it before it can actually occur.
  • Protection – GIS allows a full analysis of locations and infrastructures to better understand vulnerability, which helps officials devise improved protection plans.
  • Rapid Response and Recovery – Focusing more on natural disasters and events like wildfires, it is impossible to stop them. But with the full analysis and detailed tracking that GIS makes possible, emergency officials can more quickly and effectively take action.

All these activities require people with all levels of GIS knowledge and formal education, and particularly those who can combine technology with analysis, data skills and strategic insight.

Dr. McElroy says that there are key skills sets that GIS professionals must possess when working in this high demand field.

“Data interpretation and synthesis, remote sensing and spatial analysis techniques and critical thinking skills are three overarching skill sets that are highly desirable,” he says.

In addition, he points out that being able to make quick decisions based on limited information is a key job task of an intelligence analyst.

“The knowledge and ability to manipulate spatial data in GIS can make that decision-making process a more scientific endeavor that could ultimately save lives and resources. A comprehensive understanding of the multi-faceted nature of counter-terrorism efforts is possible through the use of robust GIS tools and for GIS master’s degree students that translates into important career opportunities.”