Geo Week News

December 1, 2008

Why Do Terrorists Have Better As-Builts?

The carnage expressed in Mumbai this weekend was shocking – the death toll has topped 170 and continues to rise. It also appears that the terrorists had better as-builts than the commandos sent to take them down.

In yesterday’s International Herald Tribune, J.K. Dutt, director general of the Indian National Security Guard, the commando force that took the lead in the fighting, said that the hardest terrorist to attack in the Taj hotel was one who ascended a spiral staircase and took up a position behind an extremely thick pillar that was part of the 105-year-old building’s originalstructure. He added that the attackers seemed to have a detailed knowledge of the building’s layout and kept moving among large halls with multiple entrances, not allowing themselves to be cornered in rooms with no other exit.

According to the report, the commandos and the police had old blueprints of the massive, labyrinthine hotel that did not clearly show how passageways were connected or blocked or show recent construction.

Let’s see – old blueprints versus detailed local knowledge– sounds like bringing a knife to a gunfight to me.

Certainly, some urban public and private infrastructure is well mapped with up-to-date 3D. Dan Livecchi from the US Secret Service and President of the International Association of Forensic and Security Metrology, will deliver a keynote presentation at SPAR 2009 in Denver on some of the 3D scanning and modeling work the US Secret Service does to prepare for National Special Security Events.

But isn’t it time that the owners of luxury hotels and meeting spaces, where the world’s well-to-do and powerful congregate, take responsibility for their facilities and provide up-to-date 3D documentation to the local authorities? This data would also be invaluable for non-terrorist emergency response efforts – fire, gas explosions and the like. What are we waiting for? Instead of having the TSA spending so much time searching grannies for oversize tubes of toothpaste, let’s get the Department of Homeland Security and their peers engaged with the private sector to get urban infrastructure documented inside and out. We don’t need to hire armies of people either — I know some laser scanning experts that could start collecting this information tomorrow!

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