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Open Geospatial Consortium 20th Anniversary Celebration Remarks

March 27, 2014

Remarks as Prepared for
Letitia A. Long
Director, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
for the
Open Geospatial Consortium 20th Anniversary Celebration

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you, Jeff, for that kind introduction. And thank you for inviting me to celebrate this momentous occasion. I would also like to thank David Schell for his years of dedication to OGC as a founder, as Chairman, and now as Chief Corporate Strategist. I know we all wish him well.

Happy 20th Anniversary, OGC! You have achieved a remarkable milestone. And thank you for the invaluable contribution you have made—and continue to make every day—to NGA and national security. Without the exceptional work OGC has accomplished, we at NGA – in fact, the entire Intelligence Community – could not do our job of protecting the nation.

I would also like to recognize the founders of OGC. First, Fred Limp with the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies who is with us tonight and will speak to us later this evening. In 1994, David and Fred joined Greg Smith, Scott Madry, Emil Horvath, Quentin Ellis, and the late Kenn Gardels with a shared vision. By the way, I am proud to say that Greg Smith is now NGA’s Chief Scientist; he is not here tonight because of last-minute travel to Los Angeles. He wanted me to share with you his regrets and to thank you for the opportunity to serve OGC’s great mission. These seven pioneers had a vision of the extraordinary value that geospatial data could create for society if only the sources and software worked together simply and straightforwardly. They not only had the insight to see this opportunity, but they had the skills and sheer determination to grasp the opportunity and make their vision a reality. In fact, their vision and determination have made a huge contribution to making NGA’s vision come true as well. 

Four years ago, we created our vision of putting geospatial intelligence – GEOINT – in the user’s hands. Today, thanks in many ways to the work of this Consortium, NGA is putting GEOINT into the user’s hands. What you do is absolutely essential to NGA’s success.

Your technical leadership over the last two decades has helped to develop dozens of open standards and best practices—which in turn have advanced significant GEOINT capabilities. 

At NGA, we now see life-saving examples in our disaster response teamwork with our international partners and federal and state emergency management agencies. For example, during our support for recovery efforts for Super Typhoon Haiyan, NGA leveraged OGC standards to share our damage assessment data. We constantly updated that data through an open disaster event page, also based on OGC standards.

We shared our data with any authorized user, in particular the International Red Cross and U.S. Pacific Command’s All-Partners Access Network. But more importantly, for the first time, we gave public access to all of our unclassified data about that event. And unanticipated users, including a United Nations organization, took the data to do their own assessments. 

More and more often, we work closely with FEMA and state and local responders during domestic disasters. Rescue workers in the field now gather data about their search areas on their mobile devices. After they search and clear an area, they can quickly upload their data to special recovery websites, like the NGA Event Page for that disaster. That data is immediately available to everyone else through the website. 

As a result, response planners know which areas are safe so they can shift their resources to where they are most needed. This immediate response can save hours and days of effort. And shifting scarce resources quickly to areas in need indeed saves lives. Only open standards and interoperable devices make this and many more life-saving actions a reality. 

For example, although it is only an exercise, this week, we are participating in two key parts of the nationwide FEMA Capstone Exercise 2014. We are supporting the Alaska Shield 2014 exercise and the Department of Defense’s Ardent Sentry effort to support civil authorities. Alaska Shield commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake. The exercise scenario portrays major damage—with mass casualties—to the entire Pacific Northwest from both the quake and a tsunami. NGA is supporting both Alaska Shield and Ardent Sentry to demonstrate our latest GEOINT Apps for mobile devices.

Most importantly for this celebration, the key point is that NGA’s apps, data, event pages—everything—leverage OGC standards. This example is just one of hundreds of ways in which your 20 years of achievement benefit national decision makers, the warfighter, the intelligence professional, the first responder, and the victims of disasters.

But you have only just begun your work. As you all know, we are living in a world of rapidly evolving and increasingly complex threats and technology. We live in a world where crisis is the new normal. I can say without a doubt that we face the most challenging environment I have seen in my 35 years as an intelligence professional. But I see these challenges as even greater opportunities for NGA and Consortium members. Every day, you are creating more open standards and improving interoperable, innovative capabilities. Every day, the GEOINT Community harnesses diverse technologies based on OGC standards. And we use those technologies to discover and use geospatial knowledge to predict and prevent the actions of our adversaries. Every day, NGA and other OGC members sponsor and lead the many test beds, pilots, and studies that accelerate the pace for adopting new standards. In fact, one of the most meaningful ways we advance open standards is through an internationally recognized rapid prototyping and testing process.

GA has helped fund and participated in OGC Web Services testbeds since 2010. They are an excellent opportunity to probe the high-risk “What If” questions about geospatial data and standards. Our investments have supported several key development efforts:

  • The first data fusion standards,
  • Web services that conflate—that is, set a standard to capture and preserve the history of fused data, and
  • Standards and processes to manage the explosion of crowd-sourced data and volunteered geographic information (VGI).

We have given thousands of hours developing software code for open source projects that shape an entire spatial architecture that benefits all of our partners. And of course, we have also implemented existing OGC standards to develop essential, new capabilities. For example, our Mission Archive Services—or MARS—environment provides a data enterprise that stores and shares Surface Ground Moving Target Indicator (S/GMTI) data from many platforms.

Your standards make this vital data easily discoverable and achievable through a web portal for the intelligence analyst and warfighter. And MARS has used OGC standards to develop open geospatial technologies and data so software developers can create plug-ins and apps. In short, the open standards process allows NGA to move forward with vital applications much faster than we otherwise could.

And NGA needs OGC to accelerate the standards process because we are accelerating our progress to realize our vision. NGA is delivering a new Community-wide platform that will drive intelligence integration across the IC. Through this platform, GEOINT is the foundation for multi-source integration. Through this platform, GEOINT empowers analysts across the Community to discover the unknown, realize unique insights, and share meaningful context with decision makers on the key crises of our time. And we can do this only if open standards and interoperable systems underpin this platform. We cannot succeed without what you do.

The geospatial information community has made tremendous progress during the past 20 years. Our drive toward ever more open standards and greater interoperability means that our future is very bright. Technology has shrunk the globe to a hyper-connected neighborhood. Everyone has the power in their hands to be a geospatial activist. And revolutionary technologies are racing from the labs into our homes, our cars, even our clothes, thanks in part to this Consortium’s open standards and interoperability program.

In the near future, we will share, experience, and use geospatial knowledge in everything we do and everywhere we are. This immersive experience is likely to radically change society within the next decade. I urge you to turn this challenge into a compelling opportunity to shape this change and reap its benefits. And I am glad to hear about—and lend my support to—the new OGC study forum that is exploring these challenges and OGC’s role in shaping the answers. I understand Directors Chris Tucker and Mike Jackson are leading the forum. 

I hope all of you will engage with the forum and encourage thought leaders from academia, business, government, the military, and the intelligence community to join you. I will make sure that NGA engages with you. 

In conclusion, I want you to understand that I truly value our partnership. I sincerely look forward to strengthening our bonds during the next decade. Who knows, at your 30th anniversary celebration, perhaps I’ll arrive in my new self-driven car, wearing a geo-aware suit, and reading the seating chart for the room through my geo-lenses. All because of the open standards you have developed. 

It is a rare and wonderful gift to be able to change the world. Everyone in this room can say with great satisfaction that in your own way, you have done so. Every time you see or hear about lives being saved during a natural disaster, every time you hear about a successful humanitarian effort that feeds the hungry, know that you have touched the lives of those people. So, congratulations again on a job well done! And thank you for all you will continue to do to help shape our world, empower NGA to realize our vision, and protect our nation!