Civil Information Management in Urban Environments

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Civil Information Management in Urban Environments


James P. Micciche


Issue Summary:

Urban terrain is an inherent part of the modern operating environment due to ongoing demographic trends. Urban operations present the Joint Force a series of complex challenges often directly related to large populations inhabiting urban environments. Operational success within the urban domain is predicated on developing a complex understanding of the systems and networks that manifest in the human domain of an urban population. Civil Affairs Operations and specifically Civil Information Management are key capabilities that analyze civil considerations, map human terrain, and assess the social impact of operations within a dense urban environment. To support urban operations, Civil Affairs forces must improve their capacity to conduct multidimensional mapping, develop advanced network analysis for large data sets, and design a force structure to manage civil information in large urban areas. Despite technological advancements, Civil Information Management capabilities are still dependent on personnel developing regional and cultural expertise and maintaining baseline knowledge of the social sciences.


A Dense and Urban World:

ADP 3-0 states, “War is inextricably tied to the populations inhabiting the land domain” therefore demography is a quintessential instrument for understanding both current and future operational environments. A demographic trajectory that is vital in defining the emerging complex operating environment of the twenty first century is urbanization. World Bank data shows the percentage of the world’s urban population has steadily increased over the past 60 years and as of 2018 over 55% of the world’s population lives within an urban environment. A United Nations studypredicts that this trend will continue estimating by 2050 over two-thirds of humanity will reside within the urban domain. A second demographic variable that amplifies the impact of urbanization trends is global population growth, according to the Pew Research Center the world’s population will continue to increase until the year 2100 when it reaches 10.9 billion. The current world population is around 7.8 billion for comparison purposes. The combination of urbanization and population growth will continue to create urban areas that are physically larger (both vertically and horizontally), denser in terms of population, and increasingly diverse often manifesting in the ever-increasing number of megacities that have populations over 10 million inhabitants.



FIG 1 – Urban and rural population as a percentage of total and projected population growth 1500-2050, chart is from OUR WOULD IN DATA and utilizes UN data



Urban Operations and Civil Affairs Operations:

Urbanization and the complex environments it creates presents a series of unique challenges across all aspects of the competition continuum and throughout multiple operating domains that the Joint Force cannot ignore. Joint Publication 3-06: Joint Urban Operations provides the following as general challenges within any urban environment:


  • Cities may reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force;

  • Ground operations can become manpower-intensive;

  • Operations are time-consuming;

  • Combat operations in urban areas may result in large ratios of civilian to military casualties; and

  • Operations conducted in urban areas may have more restrictive operational limitations than operations elsewhere.

Despite the inherent risks and challenges, ignoring urban operations is just not feasible in the increasingly urbanized world of 2020. Many of the world’s megacities are coastal making them prone to natural disaster and creating a need to develop Human Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) plans for some of the most complex human systems ever to develop. U.S. dominance in Information Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and precision strike capabilities have incentivized state and non-state actors alike to relocate facilities and resources into densely populated areas to avoid detection and increase the potential cost of kinetic strikes mitigating a comparative U.S. advantage. Large scale demographic shifts to urban centers via climate migration potentially create mass instability as local and arriving groups clash over restructured political power dynamics and limited recourses while governments struggle to provide services, generating a demand for understanding how even slight changes can alter the intricate social network of a dense urban area. As the three cases above highlight, the urban domain is an inherent part of the modern operating environment and one in which the human domain and hence Civil Affairs Operations (CAO) plays a vital role in success or failure, a point that JP 3-06 specifically highlights:


“Understanding local cultural, political, social, economic, and religious factors is crucial to successful JUOs and becomes central to mission success. Relationships between groups might be congenial, hostile, or dependent. Understanding this diversity and complexity requires a significant amount of mental effort and flexibility”