A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

In training the next generation of scholars and practitioners, START offers its students a chance to publish their work on this blog.

How START Uses GIS Analysis to Predict Future Terrorist Attacks

How START Uses GIS Analysis to Predict Future Terrorist Attacks

Friday, December 20, 2013

Marut Tangtrongwanit, GIS Analysis Intern

Special Projects Division

Spring 2013

University of Maryland, College Park


Over the course of my GIS Analysis internship with START, I have had the chance to develop a variety of skills in GIS and deeply engage myself in a number of START’s projects such as the EuroArch project and the TCOTRN project. Both projects are of particular interest to me as they are breaking new ground by using GIS for predictive analysis. This means we can attach the significance of real-world data into a GIS data model and use the data to predict which potential smuggling routes a criminal group may use as opposed to another route.  

Common GIS research might entail collecting data about attacks that have occurred and simply mapping and reporting where they occurred.  When we apply GIS to analyze why the groups attacked these particular targets, we can better predict where future terrorist attacks might take place.  GIS analysis attempts to identify the following about a target to help determine why they were attacked:

  • The target’s vulnerability,
  • The target’s location,
  • and the target’s value to a terrorist organization based on their ideological motivations.

Knowing these factors, policy makers and emergency response personnel can better plan and prepare a response to these incidents, or perhaps even prevent the attack from occurring in the first place.

As an intern with START, I must apply my skills to these projects and beyond.  One day, my supervisor may ask me to do research on significant events taking place across the US that might prove alluring to terrorist attack. I must find open source data to determine information about that particular event,such as time, place and the type of event, be it a stadium event or a parade. Another day, my task might be to develop a custom geoprocessing tool to quickly process a large volume of shapefiles for later analysis. I may also need to build a new transportation network for a particular country. This may be because better, more detailed data may exist or because we will attach new weights to the network in order to model a new issue for analysis. The two main aspects about working at START that I enjoy the most are that the research is engaging work that requires me to apply my skills in GIS and to develop new ones as I go, and that the work I do at START can help to inform and develop policy as it relates to terrorism and to better responses to incidents when they occur. 

In furtherance of its educational and professional development mission, START invites its students to write about their research experiences with the Consortium. 

This blog represents the opinions of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of START or any office or agency of the United States Government.