Signal Program

on Human Security and Technology

Advancing the safe, ethical, and effective use of information technologies
during humanitarian emergencies.

Published: 
May, 2016

Building data responsibility into humanitarian action is the first UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs think brief to explore what constitutes the responsible use of data in humanitarian response. It was co written by the Signal Program, NYU Gov Lab and the Center for Innovation at Leiden University.

This paper identifies the critical issues humanitarians face as they strive to responsibly use data in operations. It also proposes an initial framework for data responsibility.

Published: 
February, 2016

At present, accepted methodologies for wind disaster damage assessments rely almost exclusively on responders having ground access to the affected area to document damage to housing structures.  This approach can prove both time consuming and inefficient, and does not support the use of drones and satellites.

Published: 
October, 2015

In October 2014, the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) launched a knowledge hub on communications technology and security risk management.

Published: 
September, 2015

During armed conflict in East and Central Africa civilian dwellings are intentionally targeted and razed. These traditional civilian dwellings are known as tukuls which are primarily mud and thatch huts.

The intentional destruction of these dwellings, given their prevalence in these regions, is often one of the only available indicators of the intentional targeting of civilians observable in satellite imagery.

Published: 
July, 2015

The goal of this paper is to identify and address current gaps, challenges and opportunities that face the humanitarian sector as it seeks to apply traditional humanitarian principles to the increasingly central role information communication technologies (ICTs) play in 21st Century humanitarian operations. While much has been written about the roles ICTs may play in support of humanitarian action, there is an absence of literature addressing how core humanitarian principles should guide, limit, and shape the use of these technologies in practice.

Published: 
April, 2015

Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide: Displaced Population Camps is intended to help address the absence of public and standardized training resources for those seeking to use high resolution satellite imagery in support of refugee/IDP assistance operations. Students, general audiences, and volunteers studying and analyzing satellite imagery of displaced population camps may find this training resource beneficial.

Published: 
December, 2014

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.

Published: 
November, 2014

The aim of this article is to highlight potential methods applicable to a standard forensic approach for the analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery that may contain evidence of alleged mass atrocities. The primary method employed is the retrospective analysis of a case study involving the use of high-resolution satellite imagery analysis to document alleged mass atrocities. The case study utilized herein is the Satellite Sentinel Project’s reporting on the May 2011 sacking of Abyei Town by Government of Sudan-aligned armed actors.

Published: 
November, 2014

This article documents the development and initial use case of the GRID (Ground Reporting through Imagery Delivery) methodology by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). GRID was created to support corroboration of witness testimony of mass atrocity related-events using satellite imagery analysis. A repeating analytic limitation of employing imagery for this purpose is that differences in the geographic knowledge of a witness and an imagery analyst can limit or impede corroboration.

Published: 
October, 2013

At the evolving frontier of modern humanitarianism, non-governmental organizations are using satellite technology to monitor mass atrocities. As a documentation tool, satellites have the potential to collect important real-time evidence for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the field remains experimental and ill-defined, while useful court evidence cannot be produced without a standard methodology and code of ethics.

Published: 
June, 2013

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

Signal Program Satellite Imagery Analysis Methods

This video, created by the Signal Program, uses DigitalGlobe imagery of Blue Nile, Sudan from September 2011 to highlight satellite imagery analysis methods. Signal imagery analyst Isaac Baker uses the measurements and shapes of observable objects to identify military vehicles and ordinance. This type of analysis is used to detect potential threats to civilian populations.

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About This 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.