Predictive analytics: A helping hand for first responders

May 5, 2016  - By

Last month I raised my anxiety level by writing about a revenant threat from terrorist-initiated biological attacks.

The same concerns were also cited by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper during recent Congressional testimony. These “poor man’s nukes” could potentially be more devastating than 9/11 and reach into every community and even our own homes. Additionally, the threats are not easy to ferret out and just as difficult to stop in our very complex and interconnected world.

From bioterrorism to natural disaster emergency management, predictive analytics used with geospatial tools and big data is proving to be a powerful new intelligence tool that may help counter global threats.

TransVoyant Predictions

TransVoyant CEO Dennis Groseclose.

TransVoyant CEO Dennis Groseclose.

Last year there was a lot of buzz at GEOINT surrounding a relatively new company in this field called TransVoyant. Several weeks ago, I visited TransVoyant’s Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters to learn more about their capabilities first hand. I was fortunate to be able to speak with TransVoyant CEO Dennis Groseclose, an Air Force Academy graduate who, with Tim Fleischer, a Naval Academy graduate and successful entrepreneur (Radian, PD Systems), co-founded TransVoyant.

Previously, Dennis led industrial base optimization restructure for the $37 billion dollar unmanned space launch program for the U.S. Air Force; directed and implemented Worldwide Supply Chain Optimization for IBM; and served as vice president at Lockheed Martin. These experiences built his expertise to solve complex supply chain and global risk management problems using advanced analytical intelligence. In 2011, Dennis and Tim put their collective experience together to form TransVoyant, a company that specializes in creating live and predictive insights from real-time big data.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a key component of their operation. In the mid-80s, connected remote sensors numbered in the thousands. In 2016 that number is expected to reach 6 billion connected “things” worldwide with estimates of 30 billion by 2020.

TransVoyant collects, cleanses and analyzes over 200,000 external events around the world every minute (such as severe weather, natural disasters, labor strikes, inventory locations, news, terrorism incidents, disease outbreaks and energy prices) from real-time IoT data sources such as sensors, radar, GPS, satellites, smartphones and meters. It then continuously applies advanced data scientist-crafted analytics to these data streams to assess important current and future behaviors, impacts, correlations, patterns and exceptions that deliver live and predictive insights ranging from forecasts of port disruptions and precise shipment arrival times to forecasts of economic flows to real-time and predicted threats to people and assets. The resulting insights — provided via cloud services, system API connections, email and mobile applications — improve mission-critical decision making.

The geospatial grid connection

This was all sounding like science fiction and black magic until an “aha moment” for me, as Dennis explained how they use a “multi-dimensional grid cell mathematics” based data structure to apply complex algorithms to real-world data and events. This put the very complex process of continuous real-time machine analysis that “understands” normal and abnormal behavior, both current and future, into something that was familiar to me.

Decades ago, I used the first release of ArcINFO GRID, now called ArcGIS Spatial Analyst, to complete my master’s thesis. For those of you that haven’t used a grid-cell-based GIS, let me highlight the differences between that and traditional GIS software.

Traditional GIS software describes our world as points, lines or polygons with topology describing the mathematical spatial relationship between each geographic element and its linked record in a database. This topological model is somewhat cumbersome and slow because the shapes and topological relationships are complex.

Grid: David Kidner, Mark Dorey & Derek Smith, University of Glamorgan, Wales, U.K. CF37 1DL

Grid: David Kidner, Mark Dorey & Derek Smith, University of Glamorgan, Wales, U.K. CF37 1DL

The other kind of GIS is a grid cell or raster-based GIS. The data model is significantly simpler because — unlike a traditional GIS of points, lines and polygons — the grid-based GIS world is broken up into simple uniform grid cells.

The big advantage is that the data structure and tools lend themselves to very fast processing. Almost any mathematical formula can be used to operate on the individual or collective grid cells. Most grid-based systems use predefined mathematical operations such as shortest path analysis, interpolation including Kriging or very complex formulas using map algebra.

So, very similar to the famous Napoleon Hill quote, “Whatever the mind can conceive… it can achieve.” With a grid cell GIS, if an analyst can think of a way to describe an analytical process and predictive results as a mathematic expression or formula, it can be done very quickly in the grid cell environment. (See two previous columns for more in-depth information — “GRID Cell Modeling” and “Topology is not Topography”.)

So what does grid cell GIS look like in action?

Evacuations during a flood.

Evacuations during a flood.

Proactive Emergency Response

In my discussions with Dennis, a TransVoyant customer segment that caught my attention was support of first responders. Emergency responders are using TransVoyant to help with very early disaster response. One specific example is evacuation of invalid patients before a flooding disaster becomes life threatening.

A hospital evacuation.

A hospital evacuation.

Using TransVoyant’s analytics on an extensive network of satellite imagery, 911 and 311 calls, water-stage sensors, street closures, weather forecasts, registries and more, responders can predict areas that are at high risk for flooding hours before flood waters rise. Among other essential emergency management actions, these early warnings provide emergency responders with the ability to identify specific neighborhoods and homes that have disabled residents who can be easily evacuated, increasing the safety and efficiency of their operations.

Here is a screen capture of TransVoyant Continuous Decision Intelligence (CDI) predicting a flood event.

TransVoyant Continuous Decision Intelligence (CDI) predicts a flood.

TransVoyant Continuous Decision Intelligence (CDI) predicts a flood.

Other Clients

TransVoyant’s live and predictive insight solutions have attracted customers ranging from large multinational corporations to National Security and Intelligence agencies.

I know that one hears echoes of Minority Report when reviewing the tools and capabilities of TransVoyant. However, given the serious threat we face for a situation far worse than 9/11, I have no reservations about using open-source data aggregation and brilliant analytics that correlate and uncover patterns of life and global anomalies to divine a threat.

So, will predictive analytics be the tool that stops a bio terrorist or saves lives in critical emergency situations? I don’t know, but the potential threat is too grave not try every tool, including continuous precognition, in our collective toolbox.

TransVoyant will be an exhibitor at GEOINT 2016 this month, so stop by and learn more.

Since we are approaching Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, I’d like to call your attention to my May 2014 column. It’s the best column I ever wrote.

About the Author: Art Kalinski

A career Naval Officer, Art Kalinski established the Navy’s first geographic information system (GIS) in the mid-1980s. Completing a post-graduate degree in GIS at the University of North Carolina, he was the Atlanta Regional Commission GIS Manager from 1993 to 2007. He pioneered the use of oblique imagery for public safety and participated in numerous disaster-response actions including GIS/imagery support of the National Guard during Hurricane Katrina; the Urban Area Security Initiative; a NIMS-based field exercise in Atlanta; and a fully manned hardware-equipped joint disaster response exercise in New York City. Kalinski retired early from ARC to join Pictometry International to direct military projects using oblique imagery, which led to him joining SPGlobal Inc. He has written articles for numerous geospatial publications, and authors a monthly column for the GeoIntelligence Insider e-newsletter aimed at federal GIS users.