Signal Program


The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology (Signal Program) was founded by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in 2012. Signal Program staff, fellows, and partners work to advance the safe, ethical, and effective use of information technologies by communities of practice during humanitarian and human rights emergencies.

The program addresses critical gaps in research and practice HHI encountered while designing and manging the pilot phase of the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) from December 2010 to the summer of 2012. Through the analysis of satellite imagery and open source reports from Sudan, SSP was a watershed moment in the use of remote sensing to monitor the human security of civilians during and armed conflict.

Major accomplishments so far include sharing the 2012 US Geospatial Intelligence Achievement Award and co-winning the 2013 USAID/Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention.

The program's ongoing research and scholarship focuses on the following three areas:

Tools and Methods
Design and scientifically test tools and methods that remotely collect and analyze data about humanitarian emergencies;

Standards and Ethics
Help lead the development of technical standards and professional ethics for the responsible use of technology to assist disaster-affected populations;

Mass Atrocity Remote Sensing
And conduct retrospective analysis of satellite imagery and other related data to identify remotely observable forensic evidence of alleged mass atrocities.

For an in-depth look at the Signal Program's Satellite Imagery Analysis, watch this video.


New White Paper: "Emerging Issues Facing the Use of Remote Sensing Evidence for International Criminal Justice"

Remote sensing can provide unique, sometimes otherwise unavailable, information about human rights violations occurring in non-permissive environments, over large geographic areas, and across long and multiple timeframes. The evidentiary potential of RS analysis currently appears not to be fully exploited by international criminal justice mechanisms. The purpose of this paper is (A) to illustrate the nature of RS analysis and its evidentiary potential and limitations, (B) to identify the key, repeating factors across regional and cultural contexts and types of crimes that influence its limited use in court, and (C) to explore steps and strategies for overcoming the challenges. 




Click here to view Sudan: Anatomy of a Conflict

The Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative has released its first study, Sudan: Anatomy of a Conflict

This study is the first geospatial data-based history of a conflict created primarily through a fusion of remote sensing and previously public event reports. The researchers of the Signal Program spent many months cross-referencing and analyzing over 40,000 square kilometers of archival satellite imagery of Sudan with more than 2,000 published reports of incidents occurring between January 2011 and mid-2012.

Key findings of the study include evidence of the apparent intentional destruction of more than 2,000 civilian dwellings and other structures; the intentional targeting and destruction of four humanitarian facilities; identification of specific armed actors, units, and chains-of-command allegedly involved in specific attacks in Sudan; and evidence of the mass displacement of civilian populations.

Media Contact: Brittany Card at


"Developing Ethical Guidelines for the Use of Digital Data in Civil Society" (Forthcoming) Hosted by Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society at Stanford University and Co-Sponsored by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and the Brown Institute, Columbia University School of Journalism, September 2014

"Use of Sudan Armed Forces Videos in Support of Satellite Imagery Analysis" Carnegie Mellon University, August 2014
An overview of the presentation can be found here.

"Challenges and Opportunities: Humanitarian Applications of Remote Sensing" Humanitarian Innovation Conference at Oxford University, July 2014

"Current Challenges: Information Communication Technologies for Human Rights Documentation" Build Peace Conference, April 2014

"Problems from Hell, Solutions in the Heavens?: Identifying Obstacles and Opportunities for Employing Geospatial Technologies to Document and Mitigate Mass Atrocities" Stability: International Journal of Security and Development, October 2013

"GRID: A Methodology for Remote Corroboration of Alleged Mass Graves" University of Manchester, September 2013

"While We Watched: Assessing the Impact of the Satellite Sentinel Project" Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, July 2013

"Sharing Space: Adapting Military Approaches to Geospatial Analysis for Humanitarian Response and the Documentation of Human Rights Abuses" HPCR, June 12, 2013

"Humanitarianism in the Networked Age: How Communication Techologies are Transforming Humanitarian Response" International Peace Institute and UNOCHA, April 2013

"Crisis Mapping Needs an Ethical Compass"  Global Brief, February 6, 2012  

A full list of Signal Program Publications and Presentations can be found here.


"Skybox for Good Initiative Combines Imagery and Ideals," Space News, November 17, 24. Page 15.

"Eyes on Disaster," Geospatial Intelligence Forum, July 8, 2014

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Nathaniel Raymond

Isaac Baker
Imagery Analysis Manager

Brittany Card
Program Coordinator