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Integrated system for real-time TRACKing and collective intelligence in civilian humanitarian missions

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - iTRACK (Integrated system for real-time TRACKing and collective intelligence in civilian humanitarian missions)

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-04-30

Those who provide aid to the most vulnerable populations are increasingly risking their own lives and safety. From 2000 to 2016, the number of attacked on aid works has increased in 150%. Clearly, a novel and innovative approach to tracking and decision-making is needed.

The aim of better protection and more efficient and effective operations can only be achieved by developing technologies along with the policies for their use. Hence, process and technical innovation must be combined to achieve the aims of better protection and more effective and efficient operations. It is therefore imperative to develop a human-centred technology approach that can take into account the actual real world practices of responders, and incorporate these into the core technological designs and developments. In a recent DevEx publication, three key areas have been identified to improve protection:
1. Real-time information from the ground
2. Strong systems for implementation and security
3. Multiple layers of monitoring and verification

The aim of iTRACK is to answer to these needs by building a next generation, intelligent tracking platform, based on a privacy-by-design approach, to provide better protection for civilian humanitarian missions and to support collective decision-making and coordination in disasters. The iTRACK system will pursue a threefold purpose of (i) identifying threats and issuing real-time warnings; (ii) improving coordination of responders by secure information sharing and live decision support; (iii) providing logistics functionalities such as navigation, routing, scheduling and inventory management. To this end, the system will capture real-time information streams from distributed sensors and location & tracking devices, communicate and share it via secure channels, and integrate and process it in real-time. Policies, guidelines and best practice will be embedded into the system design and functionality, enriched with open datasets and open source software.

To achieve this goal, iTRACK will foster organisational and technical innovation during disasters for safeguarding civilian responders during critical scenarios from inaccurate, distrusted, and overhyped information. To this end, iTRACK will aim to raise the awareness of risks and threats at both the operational and headquarter levels by providing them with accurate, validated, enriched, high quality, and actionable knowledge. Decision-making will be assisted by automated methods for real-time, intelligent processing and linking of information from multiple sensors and devices. Multiple end users such as WFP, and iMMAP will be directly engaged throughout this process, including a working group of early adopters of the iTRACK prototype.
The first phase of the project has resulted in a develop the first version of individually tested iTRACK components including applications for monitoring & tracking; threat detection; logistics and secure communications. To ensure that the components can be used in practice, we developed accompanying policies for logistics and information management that are rooted in the reality of responders. We built both components and policies on a deep understanding of vulnerable elements and critical processes that require protection, achieved through the scenarios and the first rounds of simulation games.

iTRACK combines technology development and process innovation to ensure that the tools and approaches developed respect the needs of the response in an increasingly dynamically evolving context. Our research methodologies are geared towards eliciting and addressing the specific information needs for sensemaking and decision support in disasters, under the challenging conditions of threats to personal security, time pressure, stress, lacking and incomplete information as well as limited infrastructure and communication capacities.

Such a methodology needs to be iterative so that better-focused tools and policies can be developed as understanding increases, particularly of the dynamics and evolution of complex disasters. This iterative approach will allow further assessments to be made as either new tools are integrated, system elements are adapted, or additional risks are recognised. In this first phase of the project, we completed the first development cycle: Identification of key elements and initial development.

Working with humanitarians in the field and observing behaviour in humanitarian exercises, we identified decision-makers’ needs, including direct and indirect implications of threats and risks (WP2, WP6, WP7). This enabled us to identify of central workflows and processes, which need to be supported by iTRACK. At the same time, this work has resulted in policies for information management and logistics that shall guide the work with the system.

The elicited user requirements informed component and architecture development in (WP4 and WP5). The initial component development provides an initial version of all components, ranging from sensing, monitoring and tracking to threat detection and decision support in terms of on-board warnings or concrete logistics advice.

The components and policies respect privacy by design principles and the recommendations that have been provided through WP3. This approach shall ensure that iTRACK follows the principles of responsible innovation, and does not introduce new risks into a fragile environment. At the same time, WP1 ensures the ethical monitoring of the research activities, and provides concrete suggestions and advice.
Knowing who is doing what, where and when, the humanitarian 4W, has long been among the most important tools for coordination. Overlaying such 4W maps, often manually, with information on access and movement of (armed) actors, IDPs and refugees, is currently the most important coordination mechanism for the identification of risks and threats towards humanitarian missions.

Technology Innovation
As one of the core outcomes of the project, iTRACK has developed components and architecture for a novel secure collective intelligence platform that supports tracking, communication and threat detection in civilian humanitarian missions. The platform conceived for this project is composed of different components that together will compose a robust solution:
- On-board sensing enabling detection of chemical, biological, or radiological agents, relevant environmental or awareness data (e.g. audio-visual sensors);
- Tracking and navigation technologies for individual humanitarian responders, and moving assets such as vehicles and goods or equipment such as field hospitals;
- Secure, robust & trustworthy communication network to enable robust communication even in the case of local infrastructure failure;
- Core back-end infrastructure providing a secure collective intelligence platform for data storage, integration and consolidation, ensuring seamless interoperability with the legacy systems in use;
- Collective intelligence & situational awareness including real-time threat detection; logistics decision support, as well as the control panels and dashboards based on advanced analytics and innovative visualisation techniques for decision support and coordination.

Initial versions of each component are now available, as well as an architecture combining the advancements in individual fields to an integrated platform.
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