Geospatial Intelligence: Why should we care?

By Cordula Robinson, PhD

Faculty member, Master's in Geographic Information Technology program

August 6, 2013

People often ask me what I do for a living. When I explain that I teach and use satellite images and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) for ground-water exploration in arid and semi-arid lands, I can expect one of several responses: “Wow, you mean like space-age divining rods?” “What do you think of real-time data?” “Do you know the Queen (I have a distracting English accent)?” OR “I’d love to have a job where I could just look at satellite images all day - that’s so cool.”   Cordula Robinson

You see, what I do is connected to far-reaching ventures. I work as part of an extensive team that provides international humanitarian relief in the realm of Geospatial Intelligence. Geospatial Intelligence is its own tradecraft, a specialized field of practice within the broader intelligence profession. It includes analysis for military operations as well national security special events (Boston marathon), disaster relief (Oklahoma tornado), evacuations (Hurricane Sandy) and international humanitarian crises (water shortages in Darfur, a topic close to my heart). What do they all have in common? Location, location, location.

At its core, GIScombines layers of data to give needed information at specific locations. Remote Sensing data (provided by satellites and air craft) contribute to these individual layers. Added to that, social media offer current-event updates. Together they can be used to describe, interpret and anticipate the human impact of an event or action. Geospatial Intelligence provides the means to answer the questions of What? When? Where? How? Why?  Central to this is the recognition that the best Geospatial Intelligence resource is an educated analyst.

There is startling growth in the GIS industry, with an expected job growth of 27% through 2018 in areas such as national security, international humanitarian relief work and disaster management.

Students in the College of Professional Studies’ Master’s in Geographic Information Technology (GIT) program are exposed to cutting-edge education in Geospatial Technology and can learn how data can be turned into actionable knowledge and also a profession. We are one of a handful of higher-learning institutions to offer both remote sensing and GIS courses entirely online and aligned with the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) accreditation. This summer marks the kick-off phase for our partnership with USGIF. It will commence with a collegiate Self Study for Geospatial Intelligence certification intended to assure the geospatial capabilities of students entering the field.

If you’d like to find out more, please join us for our “Emerging Geospatial Technologies for GeoIntelligence” workshop on August 14 here in Boston. 

Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies (CPS) is committed to providing career-focused educational programs that are designed to accommodate the complex lives of motivated learners. Offered in a variety of innovative formats, CPS courses are taught by accomplished scholars and practitioners who have real-world experience. The result is an educational experience founded on proven scholarship, strengthened with practical application, and sustained by academic excellence.

Founded in 1898, Northeastern is a comprehensive, global research university. The university offers more than 80 undergraduate majors and more than 165 graduate programs, ranging from professional master's degrees to interdisciplinary PhD programs. Northeastern's research enterprise is aligned with three national imperatives: health, security and sustainability. Northeastern students participate in co-op and other forms of experiential learning in 90 countries on all seven continents.

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