By James Mallinson
Threats to American citizens, companies, and government facilities abroad present new and ever-evolving challenges for both United States federal security services and the private security companies assisting in protecting American assets around the world. Geospatial awareness in identifying threats is crucial, and monitoring and assessing them is driving innovation in multiple technologies. The American Geographical Society had the privilege of speaking to Terry Ryan, Chief Executive Officer of Constellis, the largest and most diverse non-financial risk management company in the United States.
Ryan’s background in geography began during his time as an infantry officer with the United States Marine Corps, serving in the Pacific Rim and Africa. During that time, he was using the Mapping, Charting, and Geodesy (MC&G) products provided by the Defense Mapping Agency, a forerunner of today’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) in the days before digital geospatial tools were in use. His last tour in the Marine Corps was as an intelligence officer with Naval Intelligence near the end of the Cold War, using the MC&G products to better understand threats to NATO’s flanks.
It became clear to Ryan during the first Gulf War that the United States didn’t have the means to provide near-real-time or real-time geospatial information in a meaningful timeframe to end users. At the time, the National Security Agency was moving other types of data related to national security very efficiently, but there was no equivalent in moving visual data as quickly. He left the Marine Corps to join the Senate Intelligence Committee as a professional staff member, where he pushed for the creation of a national imagery agency, which eventually developed into today’s NGA, a consolidation of the Defense Mapping Agency with other photographic and mapping efforts in the intelligence community.
Ryan heads a company of around 15,000 employees worldwide, headquartered in Herndon, VA, with a large facility for training purposes and corporate support in Moyock, NC. The two major facets of Constellis are as a protector of critical infrastructure around the world, and in assessing and addressing operational risks to businesses – mainly for natural disasters.
Constellis protects critical infrastructure for the United States both overseas, for facilities such as embassies, and domestically for buildings like Federal courthouses. To that end, Constellis is now designing and building out a proprietary system called the Layered Extended Security Operations – LEXSO. LEXSO is the continuous development, testing, and employment of advanced, integrated security solutions to enhance perimeter protection, warnings, and denial of actions to prevent unauthorized intrusions. It takes a near-real-time flow of information from remote sensing systems and close-in proximity sensors being ingested into an engine with foundational geospatial data and augmented with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to better understand threats and gain insights into inbound threats to the critical infrastructure that Constellis protects. LEXSO is designed to discern threats at greater distances and decrease the time to respond to them.
Constellis also provides risk management for business customers by utilizing GIS open data sources like OpenStreetMap to move supplies and emergency response services into remote locations more quickly, enabling the company to support broader efforts at providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief around the world. Constellis helps client companies in contingency planning and formulating responses to human and natural threats to the people and property in the facilities Constellis protects.
With comprehensive resources, Constellis provides protection services at all levels, all the way from ground-level armed guards and canine security at protected facilities to the advanced threat monitoring, assessment, and response that drives the continuous development of the LEXSO system. As Ryan puts it, the threats are becoming so advanced through new technologies that the only way to counter them is with better technology and better insights. Security services are facing the same challenges with labor supply affecting businesses across multiple industries, meaning there aren’t enough workers to secure every facility needing protection. This technology augments the labor force by tying in data from remote sensing devices to be processed and analyzed in an engine at a central operational center – replacing analytical work previously done by people.
Of all of Constellis’ accomplishments, Ryan is particularly proud of the company’s efforts during the most challenging periods of the COVID-19 pandemic. Constellis qualified, registered, and deployed EMT’s at vaccination centers established by Constellis throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, partnering with large companies and state and local agencies to vaccinate tens of thousands of people quickly.
As he looks to the future, Ryan is excited to see how microprocessors are now capable of supporting shared interaction with real-time spatialized information. When thinking about the kind of talent he’s looking for as Constellis continues to evolve, he believes the most opportunities will be for data scientists with a grounding in GIS, but he places a high value on students who couple their technical studies with a grounding in history and political science, and who learn the demographics coupled with geography. “Everybody’s going to require these data scientists that have some kind of geospatial background to understand how commerce, materials, and people will move in transit in this flatter world.”