A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

A HELP! button for aid workers

If you are an aid worker and you have an iPhone you need the Safety Button Assault Alarm iPhone application. Although it is Billed by its makers, Sillens AB, as an assault alarm for women its good for a myriad of situations in which aid workers can suddenly find themselves. Whether it’s a simple traffic accident on a remote road or the sudden realization that your new ‘friend’ intends to kidnap you, the safety button can help.

safety_button_screenshot

The Safety Button application is extremely easy to use. First, install it on your iPhone and fill in the email, phone, and SMS details of a reliable colleague or your organization’s radio room. Safety Button can then be set to do any combination of the following:

  • text your position
  • email your position
  • make an emergency call
  • sound an alarm

start_guide

When you find yourself in a situation of impending danger simply start Safety Button. Your location data will be sent to the Sillens AB servers in Sweden and updated every 20 seconds. As long as you keep the application running your position will be tracked.

At this point, if your fears turn out to be unfounded, you can simply turn off the application. No emergency messages will have been sent and you won’t have bothered anyone. However, if your instincts were right, simply press the big red button and Sillens’s servers will notify your contact.

You can buy Safety Button from the iTunes store for $2.99. The price includes three alerts. You can buy additional messages from the Sillens website.

Recharging electronics in emergencies

During last year’s fighting in eastern Chad some NGOs found themselves trapped in their compounds without power. Running their generators attracted unwanted attention so they quickly ran down the satellite phones and laptops that they depended upon for communications. Fortunately there are more and more devices out there that can help if you find yourself in a similar situation.

I’ll forego a round up of external battery packs for mobile phones and other gadgets. There are too many of them out there and they are all more or less the same. Instead we’ll look at some greener options.

Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies’ HydroPak is billed as a clean and quiet alternative to lead acid battery packs and portable generators this innovative device combines fuel cell technology with a water activated energy storage cartridge. Not only will this have more than enough power to recharge your mobile phone it should be able to recharge your Motorola radio or satellite phone as well. Their brochure has all the details. Estimated pricing is USD 650.00 for the unit and USD 37.00 per cartridge.



The Medis Xtreme Portable Fuel Cell Charger is another fuel cell device. Its much smaller than the HydroPak but still produces enough juice to recharge your smart phone up to four times. You just need to unwrap it, squeeze it, and plug it in. The Xtreme Emergency Kit is currently retailing for around USD 50.00.

Lenmar’s PowerPort Solar Charger was recently announced at CES and should be available soon. The charger fits most mobile phones and can be recharged by the sun or by connecting it to a USB power outlet. Lenmar claims it will recharge your phone up to five times before it needs to be recharged. No word on pricing yet.

Kenisis makes the K2, a solar and wind powered mobile phone charger. If mother nature isn’t co-operating it can also be charged from the mains.

Hankey makes a hand crank mobile phone battery charger that looks interesting. No need for sunshine, just turn the crank.

If you need to recharge a laptop or satellite phone Brunton makes SolarRolls. These are essentially flexible solar panels that can be rolled up when not in use. There are three models depending on your power needs. The largest will charge a laptop. Prices range from USD 300.00 to USD 650.00.

An alternative is PowerFilm’s Foldable Solar Chargers. The largest (PowerFilm F15-3600) produces 60 Watts, enough to recharge a laptop or satphone and it folds up to roughly the size of a two inch stack of printer paper. Prices seem to vary a lot so shop around. I’ve seen the F15-3600 going for as little as USD 1000.00 and as much as USD 1,500.00.

If you have a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air and deep pockets the Apple Ju!ce is worth a look. Its expensive but it comes with a free Element bag that’ll have you looking more like a stylish urban guerilla than an aid worker.

Some devices absolutely require conventional alkaline batteries. If you are using one of these you might want to take a look at Fuji’s new EnviroMAX line-up. These batteries are supposed to be landfill safe as they do not contain mercury, cadmium, nor PVC packaging.

Finally, if you are a DIY type or find yourself trapped in the middle of Chad with nothing but a soldering iron, some wires, and an Altoids tin you might want to watch Three Portable USB Battery Packs You Can Build.

Personal Security Assessment Form

Phil at itinerant and indigent has an interesting personal security assessment form that some may find useful. It is intended for ex-pat staff but I don’t see why it could be used, with some slight modifications, for national staff.

However, I recommend it with a caveat. It is important that the user of the form and the compiler of the data recognize that there is a difference (sometimes a very large difference) between feeling (un)secure and being (un)secure. People tend to underestimate threats to which they have become familiar and overestimate new threats especially if those threats are vivid and easy to recall.

I especially like question 5:

Describe a few things that could happen over the next two months,  that would cause you to review your posting here. Try to be very specific as you describe a threshold that, once  crossed, would make you radically reassess  being here in Afghanistan 



Having people assess their risk cut off level proactively might just help counter some of the cognitive bias that skews risk perception.

You can find the form here. Just scroll down to the bottom of the post.

Analysis of Competing Hypotheses Software

I came across a very useful little piece of software last week while I was grappling with a particularly sensitive analytical problem. I couldn’t afford to be wrong and I was worried that my biases might mislead me. With that in mind I decided to use Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH). Unfortunately there were so many little bits of evidence that the pen and paper method soon bogged down. A quick search on Google however led me to PARC ACH.

PARC ACH is a rather utilitarian little piece of software. There is no glitz. The UI is basic. Little glitches are inclined to spring up. I can’t seem to get it to print on my MacBook Pro. But what it does it does well.

Screenshot of PARC ACH software

The dirty work of ACH is much easier with the PARC software. It handles both inconsistency and weighted inconsistency scores. You can sort evidence by order addedd, diagnosticity, type, credibility, relevence, or even user criterion. Best of all it comes with a built in ACH tutorial that will guide you through the process if you are a newbie or just a little rusty.

If you hooked your laptop to a large screen monitor or multimedia projector PARC ACH would make a good collaborative tool. The whole team could readily see the effects of changes without being slowed by the need for someone with neat handwriting.

Did I mention that it is free?

Dates of Religious and Civil Holidays Around the World

As an NGO security officer you’ll need to to account for holidays in your security planning. While its not too difficult for holidays that occur on the same day every year its trickier for variable holidays or those based on another calendar. When Is is a handy resource that indicates the dates of religious and civil holidays around the world several years in advance.

Crossing Borders with your Laptop

Recent media coverage of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to allow border agents to search travellers laptops without cause has inspired a lot of coverage in tech media circles. However, as an aid worker it is important to remember that the US border is not the only place where your laptop can be searched. Aid workers have reported having their laptops searched by authorities in Sudan, and Pakistan. Sri Lankan security forces frequently demand access to aid worker's laptops when they are entering LTTE controlled areas or travelling by to or from Jaffna. In one case they even seized the computer of the Executive Director of an NGO.

So how do you keep prying eyes from accessing your sensitive files while travelling? The EFF has some good advice for protecting your laptop from arbitrary searches. Bruce Schneier has his take as well. Finally you shouldn't overlook Front Line's "Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders".

Sending GPS Coordinates from your Thuraya to Twitter

Aid Worker Daily has instructions for sending GPS co-ordinates from your Thuraya satellite phone to Twitter via an SMS message. This might come in handy if you get into trouble and need help like James Karl Buck.

iPM: Twittering Around the World

BBC Radio's iPM until Chris Vallance contacted me to talk about using Twitter in Afghanistan. He has put together a a great piece titled "Twittering Around the World". Its definitely worth listening to. There are a lot of fascinating people doing interesting things with Twitter.

Add IPM Radio4's channel to your page



Be sure to check out the blog post too. Chris has links to some cool Twitter related sites.

IFRC Releases Two New Security Manuals

IFRC has released "Stay Safe", its new security manual. I've only taken a quick look at it but so far it looks good. There is also a security manager's version.

Humanitarian Mapping on Mobile Phones?

Hmmm. This video looks interesting. It purports to be of an Android mobile phone application called MapMaker for creating maps in disaster zones. Here is what the person who posted the video on YouTube says about the application:

Map Maker is an Android application for creating maps in a disaster zone. It is designed to allow aid workers to quickly and easily create a map of the area they are working in. After a disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake the landscape can change so fundamentally that existing maps are rendered out of date. Knowing things like which roads are passable, where field hospitals are and suitable aircraft landing areas makes it far easier to manage an emergency.


Unfortunately the video has no audio and there are very few details. If this turns out to be more than vapourware I'd like to see some additions to support NGO security. Labels and tags for minefields, no-go areas, checkpoints, safety hazards etc. would be very nice.



If the creator of this program is out there listening I'd love to beta test this!

Saving Sri Lankan Websites at Risk

Inspired by the demise of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) website, government censorship of sites like Tamilnet, and the demise of websites like Tafern, Sanjana Hattotuwa has set up Websites at Risk. His intent is to archive civil society and NGO websites that are at risk of being closed down with little or no notice. These websites are valuable sources of information and lessons learned for humanitarians, researchers and NGO security practitioners.

Sanjana deserves a big round of applause for this initiative.

In Case of Emergency - ICE



In Case of Emergency (ICE) is a program that encourages people to enter emergency contacts in their cell phone address book under the name "ICE". This enables first responders, (paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and of course NGO security officers) to quickly search an unresponsive victims phone for the ICE contact who can identify the victim, provide emergency medical information, and next of kin details.

Of course this is not a panacea. It comes with the usual caveat; you'll need to adapt the system to your local context and your organization's methodologies. For instance it might not be appropriate in Afghanistan where Taliban supporters have been known to search the phones of passers by for foreign names. However, with a little bit of adjustment you should be able to use this idea to help ensure the safety and security of your staff.

If you want additional videos like the one above W. David Stephenson has done a number of videos at least one of which I have used before. You can find out more at his website or at his YouTube channel. Don't be put off by the Homeland Security 2.0 label he uses. His short videos are intended help empower ordinary people during times of emergency or disaster.

An Invisible Security Barrier for NGO's?

NGO compounds can be very vulnerable to civil disturbance, especially when they become the focus an angry crowd’s attention. Walls, fences and gates will only slow determined rioters and not for very long at that. Even armed guards are of little use. Guards from a reputable private security company are unlikely to be willing to fire upon a crowd of their fellow countrymen, nor would humanitarian organizations want them to. So the question is, how does one slow the advancing crowd long enough for staff to seek safety?

The Inferno invisible security barrier might be a solution worthy of consideration for at risk humanitarian organizations. The modules look like sleek high tech stereo speakers but they emit a wall of sound so unpleasant that it forces most people to leave the area immediately. Any intruder who doesn’t leave immediately faces the unpleasant prospects of vertigo and nausea and will have difficulty concentrating on the task at hand.

Inferno Screenshot

The system works by emitting a combination of sound frequencies from 2 to 5 kHz. Unlike the comparably loud scream of a regular siren the inferno’s unique frequency combinations have a disturbing but non-permanent effects on human physiology. The system won’t even cause hearing loss without repeated exposure.

Yes, a determined intruder could still get in, perhaps covering his ears, but recall that the intent is not to prevent entry. Rather, the intent is to delay the intruders long enough for staff to seek safety and for assistance to arrive. Like walls and fences you'll need to leave an escape route for staff.

Gadget Roundup

NGO security is really about people... but a few gadgets can't hurt either.

MOGO Wireless Signal Booster

We've all worked in areas where mobile phone coverage is spotty at best. MOGO Wireless has a wireless signal booster for mobile phones that claims to reduce dropped calls and boost signal strength. There is a home version that plugs into the USB port of your laptop and also a mobile version that plugs into the power port in your car. The only down side is it seems they only do 800/1900MHz so globe trotting aid workers might want to wait until other antennas are available.


ATP GPS Photo Finder

I've been experimenting with geotagging lately. Its very useful for keeping track of where you took your facility security, post-incident , and other photos. Most systems are still a little kludgey but a friend pointed me to the GPS Photo Finder. Simply carry it around while you take your pictures. Later, put your camera's memory card into the GPS Photo Finder and all the location data is merged with the digital photos. Your photos can then be used GPS compatible photo software or sites such as Google Maps and Flickr.


Solio Universal Solar Battery Charger

Better Energy Systems has introduced a couple of new models of their universal solar battery charger known as the Solio. I've used the original model for a couple of years. It comes in really handy for keeping your mobile phone and gadgets charged when you are working in areas without reliable electricity. All of the models are small enough to fit into your field bag. It only takes about four hours of tropical sun to charge fully... longer at more temperate latitudes.

The only thing I don't like about the Solio is having to carry all the little adaptors needed to support my various phones, iPods and other gadgets. Of course that's really not Solio's problem. I pray for the day when gadgets come with standardized ports.

Twitter Tracking for NGO Security

Two months ago Twitter added the ability to track keywords. Essentially this capability means that whenever someone sends a public update containing the word or phrase you’ve told Twitter to track you’ll receive a copy of the SMS.

Since its introduction I’ve been examining this feature’s potential utility for NGO security officers. I’ve tracked the names of several towns in trouble areas, the term Tsunami, and a variety of other keywords. The effort produced some positive results.

While most of the results were tweets sent by news services there were some other useful messages. On two occasions the messages containing tracked terms tipped me off hours before the issue made the media. On another occasion the issue never even made it to the mainstream media. In each case we were able to take pre-emptive action to reduce our potential risk.

There are caveats however. You get ALL public updates containing the search term, even ones in languages you don’t speak. It’s also surprising how terms are used sometimes. ‘Information Tsunami’ seems to be making its way into the modern lexicon. Apparently Tsunami is also the name of a very popular Sushi restaurant. It must be on the other side of the world from me because people’s lunchtime “enjoying Sushi at Tsunami” messages would arrive in the middle of the night. Needless to say I’m not tracking Tsunami any more.

BGAN Explorer 500 - Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned

Earlier I wrote about the new BGAN Explorer 500 we were fielding. Well I’m back from the field and the unit is set up and running so I thought I’d share a few lessons learned and give my revised impressions of the unit.

Lessons Learned

  • Ensure you completely set up your account before you go to the field. Some service providers (like ours) want you to log in to their website to activate your account before they’ll allow the BGAN to make a data or voice connection. This is going to be difficult if you are already in the field and have no other reliable connection. I learned that the hard way.

  • Make sure the IT section either removes all proxy settings on the computer you’ll attach to the BGAN or that they give you administrator privileges.

  • Take lots of extra cable. Ten-meter lengths of CAT 5 and telephone cable, plus a similarly sized outdoor power cable should suffice. This might seem like a lot but if you need to use it from inside a bunker you’ll be glad of the extra length.

  • Take backup cables. You never know whose dog will decide to chew through them.

  • It’s also a good idea to have a compass. There is one built in to the unit but it is rather fiddly and, depending on the angle you need to adjust the BGAN to, it can be difficult to read.

Impressions

Software:

Both the OS X and Windows versions of the connection software, called LaunchPad, are easy to install and intuitive to use. Tip: Ignore the installation guide and just follow the installer defaults. The documentation doesn’t seem to be current and you’ll end up with files scattered everywhere.

You can also access the BGAN via your regular browser. It gives you the functionality of LaunchPad plus allows you to make more advanced settings. Be warned though, most users it will find it to be a little more intimidating.

Hardware:

The Explorer 500 itself is pretty much ‘bomb proof’. It held up well to baking sun, monsoon rains, bouncing around the back of the truck, the attentions of a flock of hungry chickens, and a curious mutt named Max.

Overall: I’d recommend the Explorer 500 to anyone looking for a rugged, easily deployed voice and data system.

Pros:

Rugged
Portable
Easy to set up

Cons:

Lengthy and confusing documentation
Most NGOs will find it somewhat expensive

A Periodic Table of of Visualization Methods

Visual-literacy.org has a great periodic table of visualization methods. You can find something here to help tackle the most complex of analytical problems.

table of visualization methods
Periodic Table of Visualization Methods

Thanks Rick!

Smart Clothes for Disaster Relief

Disaster relief workers may soon benefit from a new 'smart' suit being developed by I-Garment. The suit is intended to help remedy safety and communications problems faced by fire fighters but I can see its utility for humanitarian disaster response as well.

project_objective_image_2_404

The suit is intended to address three familiar problems;

1. the unavailability of standard communications means during disasters,
2. the lack of information as to the whereabouts and safety of relief workers during emergency efforts, and
3. the problem of acquiring and distributing timely geospatial data during an emergency.

Features_hi-res

If one were to combine the suit with CSIRO’s proposed power generating shirts it could even be self powered.

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.

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.

Social Networking Tools Part 2 - Twitter and Tsunamis

On 12 and 13 September there were a series of earthquakes near Indonesia spawning fears of another Asian Tsunami. It proved to be a good test of our Twitter based NGO security tree.

I was in Mannar, Sri Lanka at the time and I didn’t have a useable Internet connection. My first warning of the situation came when a concerned staff member called wanting to know “when is the Tsunami going to hit!” As the fear of a Tsunami spread I started to receive more and more calls from staff. Soon the mobile system was completely overburdened in many parts of the country and creaking under the strain in others. The very slow, single line dial-up Internet connection continued to work but proved to be all but useless for gathering timely information.

Fortunately I quickly started to get SMS’s. Some came from feeds I was following on Twitter: BBC, Reuters, CNN, EQTW, etc. Others came directly or were forwarded from UNOCHA, the Sri Lankan Disaster Management Centre, the Met office, the police and assorted individuals. Twitter allowed me to quickly forward the useful ones to all my followers while limiting the strain on the overburdened mobile system.

There were some glitches however. I continued to receive forwarded text message warnings long after credible sources had given the all clear. In some instances it seems that text messages became trapped in the telephone companies’ SMS system and were released as the queue began to clear. In some cases staff, confused by contradictory information, continued to forward outdated information.

Unfortunately the biggest problem with the Twitter based NGO security tree was one of buy in. Only a fraction of the staff who were intended to be served by the tree had bothered to sign up. The manual SMS security tree, which had been left in place as a backup, failed for much the same reason.

Lesson Learned: While emergency communications tools continue to improve, and become easier to use, buy in remains the number one problem. NGO staff members, especially office staff, often prove reluctant to dedicate even minimal effort to their own personal security until it proves too late.

For some background, check out “Social Networking tools for NGO Security – Part 1”.

To see a live feed of the NGO Security stream check out the demo page here. There is a Jaiku based stream as well.

Geographic Distribution Analysis Tools - Old School

You don’t need the latest and greatest GIS program to do Geographic Distribution Analysis. While working in the Allai valley after the Kashmir earthquake we initially used a hand drawn map to plot community sizes and locations, IDP movements, NFRI distribution data, helicopter landing zone locations, and security incidents. The original map was reproduced by the simple expedient of tracing it on to new paper. For several weeks it was the most accurate and most used map of the valley.

How to make an all-weather, no power, low failure, Geographic Distribution Analysis system.

Step 1 - Assemble the following items:

• A map of the appropriate area
• Clear transparent self-adhesive laminate – Sometimes it is sold as shelf paper in the house wares section of department stores. Con-Tact or any similar brand will work.
• Chinagraph pencils – Also known as grease markers, Chinagraph pencils can be used on almost any surface, including Con-Tact paper.
• Paper – Ruled paper makes creating sketch maps easier.
• Toilet paper
• A large re-sealable plastic freezer bag.

Step 2 - Cover the map with the laminate. Its easier if you work with a partner. Cut a piece of laminate slightly larger than the map. Separate the laminate from its backing and slowly lower the laminate onto the printed side of the map. You’ll need to let it sag slightly in the middle so that your partner can press the laminate to the map starting at the centre and working slowly to the edges. If you practice a couple of times on a large sheet of paper you should be able to do it without trapping any air bubbles or making a lot of wrinkles.

You’ll now be able to use the Chinagraph pencils to mark the covered map. The annotations are waterproof but they can easily be removed by rubbing them with a bit of the toilet paper.

Step 3 - Fold the map.

Step 4 - Place everything inside the re-sealable bag.

That's all there is to it. Put the whole thing in your field bag or cargo pant pocket and it'll be ready whenever you need it. You can plot security incidents, checkpoints, IDP locations, damaged infrastructure, photo locations or any other location based data.

Tip: You might be tempted to use permanent markers on your Con-Tact covered map. Don't. The marker will slowly bleed into the soft plastic eventually leaving a permanent stain that even rubbing alcohol will not be able to remove.

Odds and Ends

Mashable.com has a collection of 60+ Collaborative Tools for Groups. Is anyone out there up to the challenge of an NGO Security Wiki?

I've always thought that something like the SPOT personal GPS tracker would be very useful for NGOs working in conflict zones and complex emergencies. According to the SPOT website it'll be out in November.

Sam at groundviews has a short piece on pledges in Sri Lanka. Wryly ironic.

Analysis 101: Times Series Tools

Old School

To do basic time series analysis all you really need is graph paper and a pen or pencil. The down side is that this method is very labour intensive and as the dataset becomes larger most of us can’t cope.

Middle of the Road

The next step up is to use something like Excel. There are some useful free or low cost tools that can simplify time series analysis. In a previous post we saw how to use Excel to do some simple analysis. The sample templates we used are located here.

I’ve developed a Cumulative Security Incident workbook that I use to track longer-term trends. It is available on the downloads page. It’ll produce charts like this one.

casualties by month

Vertex 42 has a free Excel template that can help you create simple timelines. While it might seem to be better suited to presenting a final analytical product it can also be used in the analytical process. Back in the days of the First Gulf War I used a timeline similar to this in an effort to gain a better understanding of Saddam Hussain.. Above the line I plotted significant events in Saddam Hussain’s personal life. Below the line I plotted significant historical impacting Iraq. The exercise proved very revealing and shed light on the man behind the myth.

timeline

Some people use Gantt Chart software to do time series analysis but I find it awkward and time consuming.

Bleeding edge

If you are going to do a lot of time series analysis or if you need to analyse large quantities of data you should probably consider a product like Analyst’s Notebook by i2. It can handle a time series of several thousand incidents with relative ease. It is also beneficial in many other types of analysis so you’ll probably here me refer to it again. Be warned though, it is expensive.

Analyst's Notebook

Worldmapper

Worldmapper.org has a collection of world maps where territories have been morphed according to the subject of interest. Many of the maps deal with threats and relative risk. They are a handy means of communicating complex data to a lay audience and can be quit revealing especially when you compare one theme to another.

landmine deaths
Proportional Landmine Deaths

Silobreaker - Online Analyical Tool

Online research can be a great tool but as anyone who has used Google can attest there is a lot of information out there and most search tools just dump out an endless list of links. Sorting through it, discarding the irrelevant, and putting the remainder into some usable form is a task left to the user. Any tool that allows the already busy Security Officer to spend less time searching for information and more time assessing and analysing it is of value. Silobreaker is one of these tools. In the words of Silobreaker, "Silobreaker looks at the data it finds like a person does. It recognises things - companies, people, topics, places - and puts them in context".

While I was testing the public Beta I quickly discovered its utility. A basic search for the term 'suicide bomber' brought up the type of content you might expect but with some preliminary organization. There was a top stories pane, a search result timeline frame, an entity list, a "Quotes" pane, a more traditional search results list and a network visualization diagram. The sidebar also has a list of entities related to your search; cities, people, companies etc.

Since I'm currently in Sri Lanka I "drilled down", as Silobreaker calls it, to Sri Lanka. The result were now much more relevant and lo and behold there were items of interest and relationship that hadn't captured my attention before.

As one would expect with a Beta there is still some work to be done. Even on my relatively fast connection the site seemed slow at times. One very useful feature that counters the sluggishness is the liberal use of hover overs allowing a quick preview of content before you commit to clicking on a link or entity.

Silobreaker is currently allowing free public access to its online Beta. I recommend you give it a try and see if it meets your needs.

NGO in a Box - Security Edition

NGO in a Box has a Security Edition that includes Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to aid NGOs in securing and protecting their data and online activities. The package seems ideally suited to human rights, anti-corruption, and womens groups, as well as independent media outlets. Any other group that wants to protect their data from abuse, misuse, and vandalism might want to check it out as well.

Social Networking tools for NGO Security – Part 1

I was experimenting with Twitter when it occurred to me that it was an ideal tool for NGO security officers. Rather than using the service to merely update friends on what I was having for breakfast I could be sending out security information alerts and updates. All my “followers” would then get current, low cost, security information.

This method has many advantages over the SMS security tree method commonly used by NGOs. Traditional security trees tend to fail when one or more members (the branches of the tree) do not receive or pass on the text messages they receive to those below them, typically because they are on leave or because the tree information is not up to date. Traditional trees can also be expensive. Each SMS sent by every member of the tree comes out of someone’s budget. This can add up quickly if you are sending out several messages a day to a two hundred-member security tree.

Social networking services like Twitter or Jaiku allow us to avoid these problems. Essentially Twitter and Jaiku allow the head of the security tree to send one SMS to the service’s server. The service then distributes the SMS to all the “followers” (subscribers) of the account more or less simultaneously. This means the tree still works even if members are missing. In addition you only pay for the SMS to the service’s server. SMS messages from the server to each of the followers are free*.


* Most mobile service providers only charge for text messages that are sent while those received are free.


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This work by Kevin Toomer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Canada License.
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