A Department of Homeland Security Emeritus 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.

Preventing Terrorism Through Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Preventing Terrorism Through Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Josh House, GIS Analyst Intern

Spring 2013

University of Maryland


The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START) has provided me with a great opportunity to further develop my GIS skills. Although the University of Maryland maintains the third best Geographical Sciences department in the nation, working with START in particular has helped me to understand the variety of ways in which we can use geospatial analysis.

In my time as a GIS intern, I have conducted extensive open source research on a variety of global terrorism issues. Every day presents me with a new challenge that helps me to understand and build my knowledge of how to utilize geospatial analysis. The projects GIS interns are engaged in play a big role in local government agencies’ planning strategies that help to prevent the United States from falling victim to future terrorist attacks. We investigate open source data collected from thousands of international organizations, and using GIS software are able to analyze a variety of trends and patterns to help forecast areas of high risk and vulnerability. Some of the geo-processing techniques that I have applied are transportation networks, geocoding, satellite image validation and joining numerous forms of data based off of spatial location.   

Overall, I find that START’s GIS research is extremely beneficial to local government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office and Department of Defense. Although we primarily use open source data, I feel that this enables our researchers to develop models that include a lot of information that would otherwise be neglected. A good example of this would be the Transnational Criminal Organizations, Terrorism and Radiological/Nuclear smuggling (TCOTRN) project. This framework utilizes both quantitative and qualitative data in an attempt to predict what transportation routes terrorist organizations would used to smuggle radioactive materials based off of a given start or end location. This can be extremely beneficial in the prevention and detection of nuclear or radiological threats because it provides insight as to where government agencies should allocate their resources. The best thing about this model is that you can manipulate the data in a way that provides the user with insight for a particular question.   

 Working with the Special Projects Division at START has given me a sense of accomplishment; it feels gratifying to have a chance to work as part of a team that contributes in the decision and policy making of federal government agencies. I have developed skills that I had not used before, and I am sure these skills will be beneficial in the future. This research center has proven to be a key element in advancing homeland security strategy, and probably to this day has prevented a variety of terrorist threats.  


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.