A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

BGAN Explorer 500 Unboxing

The BGAN Explorer 500 is tiny! That is the first thing that struck me when I unpacked it. In fact it is only about half the size of my MacBook Pro. At 21cm by 21 cm and weighing in at 1.3kg it is truly portable.

For those who might not be aware BGAN stands for Broadband Global Area Network. Essentially it allows Internet and telephone connections via an INMARSAT satellite. The portability of this type of equipment makes it popular amongst journalists, disaster response worker, soldiers, and others working in remote areas or areas where the communications infrastructure has been destroyed.

BGAN Explorer 500


The Explorer 500 package I received included the following:

  • EXPLORER 500 BGAN terminal
    • Battery
    • AC/DC power cable
    • Vehicle accessory power adaptor cable
    • Bluetooth handset
    • Handset charging cable
    • CAT-5 LAN cable
    • USB cable
    • CD-ROMs with software and manual
    • “Quick Guide” and “Getting Started” pamphlets

You can connect your laptop to the terminal via USB, Ethernet, or Bluetooth. There are two power jacks, one to charge the terminal itself and one to charge the Bluetooth handset. You can also plug in a regular landline telephone if need be.

My one small quibble with the hardware is with the power cable for charging the USB handset. The terminal end seems quite delicate. I foresee it becoming easily clogged with dust or simply broken off with repeated use.

Software Setup

BGAN LaunchPad software for PCs (Windows XP) is included with the system. Despite the fact that some of the documentation suggests that it is PC only I was able to find a Mac OS X version (and an update) on a hand labelled CD. The documentation also suggests that the system is LINUX compatible but I have no way of testing this so we’ll just have to take their word for it.

Installing the OS X software was a little fiddly. The installer is very Windows like and installed bits and pieces all over the place. Unfortunately where the installer said it was going to install things was not where they were actually installed. When I ran the updater it generated an error that required me to find and open the install log. Come on! If I wanted to do that kind of stuff I’d buy a PC! Luckily the LaunchPad software seems to work fine despite the reported error.

I tried to test the system earlier today without success. Unfortunately the area around my office is cluttered with buildings and trees,not to mention nervous security forces. I wasn't able to get a good line of sight to the satellite so I’ll post more once I suitable open area and really put the system through its paces.

"...becoming a better NGO security officer"

I was feeling a little depressed over the weekend. I’d reread Paul’s post on why he wasn’t liveblogging the Global Symposium +5 in Geneva. It bothered me. I could sense his frustration at what he sees as the slow progress in the world of humanitarian information exchange. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but I thought I could detect a similar sentiment at the NGO security blog in recent weeks as well. Of course there is a good chance it’s just me.

When I started this blog I had a vague idea that I could share some ideas and maybe pass on a little hard won wisdom. I suppose I also thought that I could, in a small way, influence the course of the NGO security world. Seeing people I respect have doubts made me question whether I could make a difference. In effect, “what the hell makes me think I can change anything when these guys, so much more articulate and educated than myself, are feeling stymied?”

Fortunately for me, and my mood, serendipity intervened. I received three packages. Two are ‘tech toys’ with a security bent (I’ll post about them over the next couple of days). I’m a geek at heart so shiny gadgets, software, and such always pick me up. It was the third package that really made the difference however.

OK, I confess that it wasn’t really a package per se but ‘three packages’ just sounds better. Actually it was a video I downloaded off the web and hadn’t watched until this morning. It’s a presentation by a guy named Stephen Downes at the National Research Council, Institute for Information Technology, in Canada. I won’t bore you with the details. You can watch it yourself below. Go ahead, don't let the lead frame fool you.



Stephen’s presentation made me realize that I had it wrong. This blog is not about me teaching. It’s about me learning. It’s about learning the way I always wanted to learn. It’s about me becoming a better NGO security officer... or maybe just better.

Through blogs, RSS feeds, email, YouTube, Skype and a myriad of other online tools I’m connected to, and learning from, people who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and strive for something beyond the status quo. I have access to teachers who are also fellow students. I have access to fields of endeavour too niche for textbooks and lectures. When was the last time you saw a textbook about “Security Reporting, Accessible Maps and GeoRSS” or “YouTube for Security Training”?

All of this has been a round about way of getting to what I really want to say. To all my teacher-students out there, you are making a difference. Thank you.


Note: If you’re not sure if I mean you I probably do. You can also check out the sidebar on the resource page for some hints if you are still unsure.

Saturday Morning Security

Dogbert the security consultant has some great free security advice here and here.

Tired of the staid and uninspired design of security related products? Check out Glambo’s alternatives.

Sucking Chest Wound BearGood Luck Bear Body Armor

The Real Weapon of Mass Destruction

The Al Jazeera network has an interesting story on the the real weapon of mass destruction, the AK-47. If you've worked in a conflict zone you've probably seen and heard it. If you are an aid worker you've probably seen the results of its use. It is the weapon of choice for revolutionaries, dictators, drug lords, and child soldiers.



Part two includes an interview with former child soldier Ishmael Beah, author of "A Long Way Gone".

Surviving an Air Crash

Popular Mechanics has an interesting article on how to survive an airline accident in "Safest Seat on a Plane". It seems there is some benefit to being unable to afford first class.

Twitter in Emergencies

This morning I came across Luis Suarez’s very informative post about micro-blogging in emergencies at elsua.net. His post led me to a great YouTube video by W David Stephenson.


David’s video led me to the American Red Cross’s twitter feed and their Safe and Well feed. Ike Pigott at Occam’s RazR has a great post that explains how Twitter can be used to keep the Safe and Well database up to date.

I left a comment on Ike’s site wondering about how to get the word out to the general public. After all most people wont be reading blogs like this before an emergency. While I was writing this post it occurred to me that Red Cross t-shirts would be the ideal medium. Just include the instructions for how to SMS the Safe and Well feed on the back of the shirt.

Twitter Tracking for Security and an Answer

Twitter has added the ability to track keywords. Now whenever someone sends a public update containing your word or phrase of interest you’ll receive a copy of the update. How is this useful for NGO security officers? I’m currently tracking several towns in trouble areas, Tsunami, and a variety of other keywords. You’re only limited by your creativity. One word or warning though: you’ll get ALL public updates with the search term, even ones in languages you don’t speak.

I've also finally added the solution to our geographic distribution analysis problem.

Free Burma!


Free Burma!


Want to help? Go to Free Burma!

Vacancy - Security Coordinator - Relief International

Relief International is looking for a Security Co-ordinator for Iraq. Fluency in English and Arabic is required. If you think you are up to the challenge check out the TOR here.

Aid Worker Killed - Sri Lanka

I met the Rev Fr Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith of the Jesuit Refugee Services while I was in Mannar district a few weeks ago. He struck me as a quiet, principled man, who was dedicated to his beliefs and service to others. Despite the difficult security situation in the area he continued to work hard to bring relief to the poorest and most vulnerable. In short he was the type of man I endeavour to be.

On the afternoon of 26 September 2007 while travelling towards Vellankulam in an LTTE controlled area of Mannar his vehicle was struck by a command detonated Claymore. Fr. Packiyaranjith was killed instantly. His driver was severely injured.

No one has accepted responsibility for this brutal and myopic act. Nor is anyone likely to. The government blames the LTTE. The LTTE blame the government.

Over the weekend the sheer senselessness of his death left me feeling frustrated and depressed. This morning however, I had a revelation. Fr. Packiyaranjith was the type who, if he had been given the choice, would have chosen to spend his last moments in his quest to help others.

Sri Lanka needs more like him.

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