A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Maps - Aid worker fatalities in 2008

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Map - Humanitarian Aid Worker Fatalities - 2008

Aid Worker Fatalities in 2008 - Heat Map
Heat Map - Violence Related Fatal Incidents - 2008

Afghanistan Maps

If you need a little cartographic assistance to help you make sense of Afghanistan, Somalia, or world wide opium production, you should check out the Senlis Council’s map page. The maps also make great orientation graphics for senior level decision makers, VIP visitors, and others with short attention spans.

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a disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake the landscape can change so fundamentally that existing maps are rendered out of date.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!

Security Incidents Map - Nepal - March 08

OCHA Nepal has released a security incidents map for Nepal covering March 2008.


Terrorism, Economic, and Privacy Risk Maps

I love maps. Good maps can be a security analyst's best friend. A good map can summarize an entire analytical report.

A recent post on sources and methods led me to Aon Corporation's Terrorism Threat Map. Risk levels, regions of special risk, religious extremist groups, political extremism, separatist movements, and kidnap risk are all covered in a simple and easy to grasp format. The legends are chock full of information as well. One even contains a concise explanation of the terrorism risk assessment process.

Terrorism Threat Map

Aon's 2008 Political and Economic Risk Map is another that deserves a place on your office wall. Not only does it illustrate the usual war, terrorism, and civil disturbance risks but it also highlights exposure to the current global credit crisis. You can get a copy here but unfortunately you'll have to fill in one of those annoying online forms.

Political & Economic Risk Map 2008

Privacy International's map of Surveillance Societies Around the World isn't nearly as professional as the ones above but it is still effective at pointing out that the world's nosiest governments aren't necessarily where you might think. Although I think Privacy International tends to be somewhat alarmist my biggest problem with their latest report is that they still leave large portions of the world uncovered. Surely Africa, the Middle east, and South Asia deserve greater attention?

Map of Surveillance Societies arounf the World

For extra analytical fun try overlaying the maps. How does surveillance intensity compare to terrorism risk? Kidnap risk?

Tracking Kenyan Violence

Ushahidi.com is a brilliant website that gives Kenyans a simple way to report and follow post-election violence. The site offers a simple map-based way to see where violence is taking place, and collects eyewitness accounts and photographs. Its even possible to report incidents via SMS.

Ushahidi.com screenshot

If you want even more White African has a comprehensive list of blogs covering the post-election violence.

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

A couple of weeks ago I emailed Paul Currion and happened to mention that I wanted to plot RSS news feeds on an easily accessible map. Paul passed my question onwards and it mushroomed into an interesting conversation between some very clever people. Numerous hat tips and thanks to you all. I’m still experimenting with some of the ideas that were shared and I’ll update everyone at some time in the future.

So far I’ve run into some stumbling blocks:

  • In Google Maps Sri Lanka is a big empty space. The only thing missing is a ‘here be dragons’ label
    • RSS to GeoRSS utilities tend to encode the first place name encountered. This means that a story about Trincomalee will be plotted to Colombo if Colombo is in the by-line
    • Some utilities don’t work well on some platform/browser combinations
    • It seems the IT section’s web filters are causing some problems as well
    • Popfly seems to work pretty well but so far the Geonames database they use only covers the US

Common sense update

No sooner did I post my common sense rant then I came across this picture.

lightning strike

My common sense tells me that aircraft getting struck by lightning would be an extremely rare and very dangerous event. Apparently my common sense has let me down as this article and the reader comments explain.

Analysis 101: Geographic Distribution Analysis 2

As Paul pointed out it would be beneficial to compare our office location (the blue square) with the IED incidents. We’ve also added military installations (the green squares) and the primary military convoy routes (marked in orange dashes) as these are likely targets.

Geographic Distribution Example Map 2

A search for more information reveals the following:

You have two small low-key programs operating in town.
The bulk of programming takes place in other areas of the country but staff travelling to the field offices are forced to take one of the major roads.
The main road to the east is the only viable route to access offices in the east.
Local staff travel back and forth to work by public transport or personal vehicles using all the main roads.
International staff travel to and from work in agency vehicles.
The first military convoys of the day are usually between 0600 and 0900.

Analysis 101: Geographic Distribution Analysis

Geographic distribution analysis is a method of examining the occurrence of security incidents or the distribution of entities over a particular geographic area to determine what can be concluded about the incidents or entities. The analysis is usually performed on a map but the final results can also be expressed in a descriptive manner, as in a written report.

To complete a distribution analysis, data on the locations of violent incidents, entities of interest, etc. should be collected and plotted on a map that covers the area in question. Next the map is reviewed to produce a summary and to draw conclusions about what it might mean.

At its simplest geographic distribution analysis might only represent one dataset e.g. a plot of violent incidents on a city map. While this can be useful in itself, as a weekly briefing update perhaps, we can delve much deeper by synthesizing two or more datasets on the same map. We could compare a plot of violent incidents and criminal activities against a plot of proposed office and residence locations. As another example we could compare the locations of narcotic growing areas and smuggling routes with an overlay of violent incidents targeting NGOs.

To illustrate lets look back at our previous problem. As you’ll recall we did a time series analysis of a series of IED attacks. Although we were able to make some basic and tentative conclusions we knew we needed to do further analysis and geographic distribution is a good next step.

After plotting the IED incidents you come up with a map that looks like this.

Geographic Distribution Example Map

What are your conclusions now? Would you change or amplify your advice?

Data Visualization

Smashing Magazine has an excellent summary of current innovative data visualization techniques that’ll leave your PowerPoint presentations crying in the corner. There are plenty of ideas and links to get the analytical juices flowing. I’ve run across several of the resources before and for me two stand out.

The first is Dr Hans Rosling’s now legendary talk at TED wherein he explains a new approach to presenting complex statistical data. His Trendalyzer software turns decades of complex data into colourful animations that make world trends come to life. He takes mountains of publicly funded information, normally squirreled away in UN data silos, and turns it into knowledge that can be acted upon. Watch the whole video and see if it doesn’t change some of what you think you know.

The second is newsmap. This enlightening application displays the dynamic content of Google News as blocks. The more websites and news services that carry a headline the larger the block becomes. As the creator points out newsmap displays the underlying patterns in the news media, reflecting and highlighting it bias. How is this useful? Well consider this. The headlines that make it onto the newsmap display are the ones that are bombarding the senior decision makers, donors, and general public. Where does your particular issue fit in? Has it made the headlines?



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

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