Crisis Mapping and Early Warning

Launched in 2007, HHI's Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning examines the use of information communications technologies in conflict and disaster settings. Research focuses on identifying patterns in humanitarian emergencies to improve response. HHI examines the impact of crisis mapping, geospatial and crowd sourcing technologies to prepare, mitigate, and respond to emergencies.

For a document with a brief summary of this program, click here.


Mobile information technology devices have come to play an increasingly important role in responding to humanitarian emergencies and providing critical data to improve the understanding of the complex dynamics of emergencies and local and international response. HHI's Crisis Mapping and Early Warning program seeks to develop an evidence base to evaluate information technologies, to convene the humanitarian and technical communities, to facilitate dialogue among humanitarian actors, and to provide new sources of data to improve understanding of conflict dynamics.

Through its convening role, HHI is creating a community of practice to catalyze discussion among disparate groups of experts in a sustained forum that will refine crisis tools and promote best practices to save lives. The development of a community of practice is essential to help facilitate the integration of social media, crowd sourcing, and new grassroots geospatial tools into the humanitarian cluster system.

Through a variety of ongoing initiatives HHI is working to:

  • Build evaluation tools to assess the impact of information technologies on the internal decision making processes of humanitarian organizations
  • Convene humanitarian actors and members of the voluntary technical community to facilitate dialogue and to develop prototype frameworks for integrating new tools and methods into the humanitarian community
  • Report on the current state of humanitarian information management, mapping the interface between the humanitarian community and an emerging grassroots technology community.


HHI works with the Satellite Sentinel Project to provide research and evaluation of the system's effectiveness and human rights documentation.

The project, the first of its kind, is being funded by the human rights organization Not On Our Watch, and is a collaboration between the Enough Project, the United Nations UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Programme, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, and Internet strategy and development firm Trellon, LLC.

Click here to read the most recent press release detailing the Satellite Sentinel Project's evidence of ongoing conflict in Southern Sudan.


Research and Evaluation

The research and evaluation of the Satellite Sentinel Project at HHI is led by Dr. David Yanagizawa-Drott, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Yanagizawa-Drott has explored issues such as the impact of hate propaganda on violence during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and the strategic determinants of news about human rights violations. He is currently investigating how innovations in information and communication technologies can be used to prevent political violence in conflict zones.

Human Rights Documentation

Human rights documentation for Satellite Sentinel is led by Dr. Charlie Clements, Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Clements brings twenty-five years experience as a public health physician and human rights activist. The collection, human rights analysis, and verification of on-the-ground reports that contextualize satellite imagery is led by Nathaniel Raymond at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Mr. Raymond is a human rights investigator with a decade of experience in documentation of human rights violations.

Drs. Yanagizawa-Drott and Clements are both faculty members of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).



Below are the most recently published reports from the Crisis Mapping and Early Warning program. For the full list of the program's publications, go here.


Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies

By John Crowley and Jennifer Chan,UN Foundation-Vodafone Foundation-UNOCHA, 2011.

This report analyzes how the humanitarian community and the emerging volunteer and technical communities worked together in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and recommends a four-part framework to improve coordination between these two groups in future emergencies. The report was researched and written by a team at HHI, in partnership with Vodafone Foundation, United Nations Foundation, and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).



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Applied Technology to Crisis Mapping and Early Warning in Humanitarian Settings

By Patrick Meier and Jennifer Leaning, September 2009.

The purpose of this Working Paper Series on Crisis Mapping is to briefly analyze the current use, and changing role, of information communication technology (ICT) in conflict early warning, crisis mapping and humanitarian response. The authors demonstrate that ICTs have the potential to play an increasingly significant role in three critical ways by: facilitating the communication of information in conflict zones, improving the collection of salient quantitative and qualitative conflict data, and enhancing the visualization and analysis of patterns.


Today, HHI continues to play a pivotal role in defining the future of Crisis Mapping and Early Warning by catalyzing dialogue across several fields of expertise to accelerate learning in humanitarian response, digital technology and computational methods. Below is a listing of our current projects:

Disaster Relief 2.0

This open analysis research project was commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and funded by the UN Foundation/Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership. Through a series of interviews and focus groups, this research captures reflections of members in both the humanitarian community and the voluntary and technical community. The research further provides an opportunity for both communities to come together to enhance future collaborations. The document, released in March 2011, "Disaster Relief 2.0: Recommendations for collaborative information-sharing in humanitarian crises," shared key lessons learned about how these two communities have worked together in recent humanitarian emergencies and offered recommendations and a potential framework to enhance future collaboration. The full report: Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies

Satellite Sentinel Project

The Satellite Sentinel Project is a collaborative framework that includes the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the United Nations, Digital Globe, the Enough Project, and Not on Our Watchand includes partnerships with private corporations and other academic institutions. A team at HHI and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School lead the development and management of the Sentinel system. The project is the first of its kind to fuse together satellite imagery, on-the-ground field reporting, and crisis mapping applications into a unified monitoring platform to detect, deter, and document threats to Sudanese civilians. The project represents a breakthrough in the development of “protective humanitarian” technologies that employ the strategic collection and targeted presentation of data to deter and prevent mass atrocities.

International Conference on Crisis Mapping

The International Conference on Crisis Mapping (ICCM) was launched in partnership with HHI and John Carroll University in 2009. The conference brings together practitioners, scholars, software developers and policymakers at the cutting edge of crisis mapping. The International Network of CrisisMappers ( was launched at the first ICCM and has served as a community and operational facilitator during recent disasters and crises. The network includes some 3,000 individual members and 1,500 organizations based in over 120 countries worldwide.

Technology Evaluation Through Field Simulation

The Crisis Dynamics program has integrated information management, mapping and crowdsource data reporting into HHI’s Humanitarian Studies Initiative Field Simulation.

Monitoring and Evaluation of Technology in Crisis Management

HHI is developing its expertise in monitoring and evaluation and will build on its evaluation of Ushahidi to foster a learning process based on real-life technology implementation. HHI was an early partner of Ushahidi and continues to collaborate with the non-profit organization and other organization that use the Ushahidi platform. Recent projects in Kenya and Colombia focus on further understanding how to improve the user interface of Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing and information management system for decision making.

Kobo Digital Data Collection

HHI is hosting the KoBo Suite, which consists of several software tools and methodology to help practitioners implement rapid Digital Data Collection projects. Together, these tools allow any practitioner to design and implement a research instrument for Digital Data Collection, to perform the data collection in the field, and to then aggregate the collected data into a database. KoBo is based on the Open Data Kit, and has been widely tested in extreme conditions for ease of use and reliability.

Rapid Indicator Mapping Module

The Rapid Indicator Mapping Module allows researchers to quickly display various kinds of data on a geographic spread, such as results from a population-based survey across different states within a given country. By using a streamlined script and existing mapping technologies such as Google Maps API, information collected in the field can be turned into comprehensive, yet accessible interactive maps within seconds. The system is designed to support and display large amount of data even where connectivity is limited. The content of the interactive maps inside RIMM are produced ‘on-the-fly’ based on a simple table containing the various indicators to be mapped. The data is read from a CSV file, which can be produced based on existing tables using simple software such as Microsoft Excel. The data is provided directly by the researcher who simply uploads the CSV file to the server or local computer. In this manner, ongoing analysis or exploitation of crowd-reporting can be easily mapped and extended even while data capture or reporting is still underway, visualizing progress almost in real time. The data used by RIMM can also be updated dynamically using a variety of ways, eliminating the need for an intermediary person and thus providing actual real time updates from the field.


To see a list of articles about our research on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning, please click here.


HHI's Program brings together some of the world's most forward thinking and accomplished experts in the field of Crisis Mapping and Early Warning:

Jennifer Leaning, MD
SMH, Co-Director, Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Program

Patrick Meier
PhD, Former Co-Director, Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Program

Gregg Greenough, MD, SMH
Director of Research, Harvard Humaitarian Initiative

Nathaniel Raymond
Director of Operations of Human Rights Documentation, Satellite Sentinel Project

Benjamin Davies
Deputy Director of Operations, Satellite Sentinel Project

Brittany Card
Data Analysis Corrdinator, Satellite Sentinel Project

Isaac Baker
Imagery Analysis Manager, Satellite Sentinel Project

Jennifer Chan, MD, MPH
Associate Faculty, Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Program

John Crowley, MPA
Research Coordinator, Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Program

Justyna Zander, MA, PhD
Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Fellow

Jen Ziemke, MA, PhD
Crisis Mapping and Early Warning Fellow