The ripples of 9/11

Todd Barr
2 min readFeb 14, 2015

It's hard to remember what GIS tech was like on 9/11. ‘Data i'sn’t truly shared, ‘unless you had a shared drive on a computer or one of the first generations of SDE. ‘Geofolks generally weren’t ‘in meetings, unless it was for them to “take notes on how I want this (paper) map produced.” The concepts of mashups, data sharing, and maps on a phone seemed like Star Trek, a few of us knew it was coming, but we didn’t know how quickly. ‘The events of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions and operations decision-makers started to understand how powerful our data really is.

In the first years following, technology slug along. ‘We threw up ArcIMS sites, embedded maps in powerpoints all to assist in achieving “situational awareness” or a “Common Operational Picture” (COP). ‘To help facilitate the business processes of sharing spatial data, a number of Working Groups were formed. ‘Over time, they all melded into the’ Homeland Infrastructure Foundation — Level Data (HIFLD) group. ‘This allowed decision-makers, tech folks and operational players all a place to meet and talk and figure out how to share their data, and what business rules needed to develop, or needed to change. ‘Over time they developed a common operational dataset know as the Homeland Security Infrastructure Program (HSIP). ‘This was spatial data with critical infrastructure features and it was shared throughout the community.

HIFLD, as with all successful working groups, attracted more people, and with this the content of the presentations became, different. ‘Where before we were talking models and methods, had turned into “Lookie at my new viewer, it has rain gauges that I can query.” ‘*golf clap*

The first HIFLD I attended under the National Guard Bureau, everyone was so ready to go Google Earth. ‘At the bar that night, my client told me that we needed to “get smart” on Google Earth. ‘When I told him we could just repackage the data, and serve out another feed that GE could read, he was ecstatic. ‘ ‘The Google Earth v/ anything else is another blog entry

I haven’t attended a HIFLD in 3 years, I can read the powerpoints, and, to be frank, I am cynical about going there anymore. “Seen one COP, seen em all.” ‘If someone does have a different discussion topic, I ping them offline.

HIFLD laid the foundation for Geospatial information sharing within the Emergency Management Community, it brought the geography community together, and with our decision-makers in tow, they saw the capability and the power of spatial. ‘

Originally published at on September 11, 2014.