USE CASE: Providing early warning of a crisis

What is the problem?

In conflict zones airstrikes have devastating consequences – causing civilian deaths and injuries on a massive scale. Densely populated neighbourhoods, hospitals, schools or other locations with high levels of civilians are often targets for strikes. It is challenging to predict when strikes will occur, and to issue time-critical warnings enabling civilians to seek safety from imminent attacks.

What is the CCI solution?

Sentry, developed by social enterprise Hala Systems, is an indication and warning system that uses a multi-sensor network to generate a real-time awareness of threats and quickly disseminate warnings. Sentry uses acoustic sensor data, reports from people on-the-ground and open media ‘scraping’ to detect warplanes in flight. It then uses AI to validate information from multiple sources, and issues warnings to civilians and global stakeholders. Combining the intelligence of local community actors with a wide range of additional data sources and AI enables Sentry to give accurate warnings to affected civilians and stakeholders.

How is it being done?

Sentry combines a number of ‘sensing’ data sources to predict when and where air strikes will occur. It uses data captured by acoustic sensors that detect the sound of military aircraft, reports from volunteer “plane spotters” (recorded in a smartphone app) who live near air bases and in conflict zones, and data scraped from social and local media (by a machine learning algorithm) to confirm information about the plane and flight path. The ‘sensing’ data inputs are validated by an AI-based model trained on historical data; the software estimates the possible target and timing of the airstrike by comparing it to past cases of attacks.

Sentry then issues alerts to citizens in affected areas 5-10 minutes in advance of an airstrike to give them time to escape. Warnings are disseminated through social media (including via chat bots), TV, radio and on-the-ground sirens, and direct messages are sent to local civil society organisations, hospitals and schools. Sentry uses blockchain technology to immutably store war crime information and citizen reports collected through the tool.

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So what?

Sentry has taken the ad-hoc system of plane spotting and added analytical precision to save many more lives. During 2017-2018, Sentry covered an area of 9 Syrian governorates with a reach of over 2.3 million people and led to an estimated 20-30 per cent reduction in casualty rates in areas under heavy bombardment.

This project demonstrates how a wide range of critical data sources can be combined in areas where data is scarce, such as war zones, and validated by AI to provide a reliable and accurate prediction of time-sensitive threats. In addition to providing targeted citizens with time to prepare for attack, EWP supports a timely and coordinated response from other local, national and international actors (i.e. doctors, charities and government bodies) who can quickly deploy support and aid where it’s needed most.