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Center for American Progress

Satellite Sentinel

Project Details

The Satellite Sentinel project was started by a collection of NGO actors looking to prevent war in Sudan. With the recent events of Darfur on their minds, their idea was to use online maps to present real-time satellite imagery married with legal and human rights analysis from Harvard in an effort to prevent a war from occurring. With 16 days before the proposed referendum that could start a major conflict, they came to Trellon seeking innovative approaches to social media to keep public attention on the area.

Challenges

Championed by George Clooney, the Satellite Sentinel project attracted intense international media and academic scrutiny. No one had used online mapping to present near-real-time satellite analysis in this way before, and the subject matter demanded a thoughtful approach to how information and imagery blended to provide a comprehensive picture of what is going on. One key concern was over using the system in a military intelligence role; potentially, it could provide the same information used by heads of state to inform them on troop levels, infrastructure, and other valuable targets.

Solutions

Trellon acted in a central role, devising processes for how information will make it's way to the web site. We worked closely with all parties involved to ensure content could be correlated and published efficiently and that individual stakeholders understood their responsibilities. We worked with groups to facilitate the development of systems for categorizing information and removing imagery that could potentially provide an advantage to one side or the other in an armed conflict.

Data visualization was key for helping people to understand events throughout the country. Trellon developed original mapping components for the site using the OpenLayers module to allow us to provide more detailed imagery than is available with the general release and support for tilesets keyed to display when various parts of the map are presented. Along with basic content management system support, this allowed us to create tools that tie analysis to imagery in a way that simple point systems or heat maps simply do not offer.

The result was a site that was delivered in a very short timeframe, allowed efficient collaboration between very different groups, and stood up to massive amounts of traffic around media events. Our innovative approach to mapping allowed us to explore original methods of presenting satellite intelligence in a contextually relevant way that can be easily understood by people from different backgrounds. The site generated over 7,000 press mentions worldwide and received coverage on major North American news channel, including our friends at CNN.