By Sara Barker, Xperience Communications
What exactly is a “customer consequence” and what does it look like?
According to Robert Cardillo, director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, it is what the customer accomplishes with NGA’s work when data and analysis are so persuasive it can be applied to the customer’s mission at their decision point.
For examples of customer consequence, read on to learn how FEMA’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force used NGA- created trajectory maps to locate the remains of victims following the 2014 Snohomish mudslides and how satellite images from NGA enabled the U.S. Marines to determine the best location for an urgently needed water purification system after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Snohomish County Mudslides
When the March 22, 2014, mudslide occurred in Snohomish County, Washington, FEMA’s Incident Support Team knew they needed NGA expertise, specifically NGA’s Integrated Work Group — Readiness, Response and Recovery, or IWG-R3, team. According to IWG- R3 team member Todd Hildreth, the first day they arrived, he and teammate Aaron Davis worked 20 hours straight.
“We got there and had our work cut out for us,” said Hildreth. “First, we had to find the data on the Washington state GIS [geographic information system]. Then we determined what the customer needed and finally, we prepared those products for the next day.”
Among the products the NGA IWG- R3 provided FEMA each day was a trajectory map — in both geo-coded electronic and physical versions — of where the remains of the victims were found in relation to their last known location.
According to Hildreth, the product helped increase the thoroughness of the searching and tracking efforts. “We were able to provide sanitized versions of the maps to liaisons to pass on to the victims’ families,” said Hildreth.
Davis acknowledged that creating the maps was a part of the job that was especially meaningful since it allowed the families to have some closure.
“A nice thing about these types of engagements is that the customers are right in front of you, asking their questions, providing feedback,” Davis said.
While representing NGA, Davis and Hildreth were the unexpected benefactors of customer consequence. FEMA’s IST and Urban Search and Rescue teams told them directly how much they helped and the public showed their appreciation by dropping off baked goods daily.
“We feel lucky to have been able to help,” Davis said.
Assistance During Typhoon Haiyan
On Nov. 7, 2013, a few months before the Snohomish County disaster, Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded at landfall, hit the Philippines, eventually killing more than 6,300 people and leaving nearly 8 million homeless or displaced. The Philippines asked the United States for help.
When Marine Lt. Col. John Bilas landed at Villamor Air Base in Manila, a wrecked country greeted him, torn apart by Typhoon Haiyan.
“I saw thousands of displaced persons,” he said. “Haiyan ravaged the country and left a massive level of destruction and suffering in its wake.”
Stationed with the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force at Okinawa, Japan, Bilas, served as an intelligence officer with the Joint Task Force 505 and deployed aspart of Operation Damayan, a multinational effort formed in direct response to the Filipino government’s request for assistance, he said.
Bilas in his role with the III MEF supported evacuations and delivery of aid and relief supplies by providing unclassified imagery-derived products to multinational partners and situational awareness to the JTF 505 commander.
“The commercial and [national technical means] imagery provided by NGA was an integral part of this support,” Bilas said.
According to Bilas, it was simple to initiate the support, requiring only a brief email exchange with the U.S. Pacific Command NGA Support Team.
“The PACOM NST then coordinated with the Marine NST and NGA’s Military Support Directorate,” said Bilas. “There were a few hiccups, but once reach-back connections and areas of interest were set, we fell into a battle rhythm, meeting at the same time every day with the same people — the PACOM J2, the NST and my collections manager.”
The JTF downloaded more than 300 full-frame satellite images from NGA and, from these, created original imagery-derived products, including helicopter-landing zone, beach and route studies.
Bilas said these products were central to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief that Operation Damayan provided. As an example, Bilas noted how the JTF used imagery-derived products in its planning and construction of a water purification system in one of the hardest hit areas near Tacloban City, a 45-minute helicopter ride south of Manila.
The products helped the staff discern that “getting to the ground would be fine, but roads were blocked, so air was better,” he said.
By the time Operation Damayan concluded Dec. 1, 2013, NGA GEOINT products had supported the transportation of more than 1,300 aid flights to about 450 sites, and helped evacuate more than 21,000 people.
While he considers the operation ultimately successful, Bilas said it was threatened at times by technical challenges.
“Bandwidth still cripples us,” he said. “We had to use NGA’s unclassified network to download the [large data files] due to high-traffic volume delays on the classified network. Doing this risked overwhelming the [unclassified] bandwidth.”
According to Bilas, the root of this problem was a systems issue.
“We need more from NGA on the [unclassified] domain because, by and large, we do not have JWICS access,” he said. “We need to improve our bandwidth. I know Marines who could not download maps, so they went to Google Earth.”
Bilas explained that if customers have bandwidth or network-access constraints, NGA’s advancements in GEOINT are of little use.
“I’ve seen analysts at NGA do great things on JWICS, but where does this go?” Bilas said. “Marines in the operating forces don’t have the access like analysts in DC. Sometimes it’s not as available as we would like. It’s just the nature of how the systems are set up and how we operate in the tactical world. We need more from NGA.”
Bilas said that his experience as an NGA customer during Operation Damayan was positive but he highlighted opportunities for improvement in light of Cardillo’s stated commitment to customer consequence. Recently, the director affirmed that he planned to focus all agency efforts “on providing our customers with the insights, understanding, foreknowledge and meaningful results that allow them to succeed in their mission.”
For Bilas, fighting bandwidth constraints on the unclassified domain and limited access to JWICS meant that his NGA enabled consequence was threatened by its conveyance, according to the director’s new terminology for success.
“These are the types of stories we should be capturing and acting on,” said Cardillo. “Our customers want us to pay attention so that we know what will enable consequences for them before they do. They don’t want to be surprised by anything.”
Cardillo has stated that he hopes he will get to learn of specific opportunities for improvement via the agency’s new consequence tool [see related story, The Lens of Consequence]. For an NGA customer like Bilas, this openness could get his accessibility issues in front of Cardillo in a faster and more direct way than ever before.
“I want us to make better use of our mistakes. They are our greatest learning opportunities,” Cardillo said.