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Communications Technology and Humanitarian Delivery: Challenges and opportunities for security risk management

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20 October 2014

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Communications Technology and Humanitarian Delivery: Challenges and opportunities for security risk management

The editors and contributors of this volume are to be congratulated on a practical text that pushes forwards our knowledge and understanding of the virtual space that now surrounds humanitarian operations, and which can have such a physical impact upon them. I encourage you to read it. The articles that follow have certainly brought me up to speed.

Hugo Slim – Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC), University of Oxford. [Extract from the foreword of Communications Technology and Humanitarian Delivery: Challenges and Opportunities for Security Risk Management.]

In 2016, two articles were added to this publication, which now contains thirteen dispatches from a new frontline in humanitarian action: the digital frontier. All are written by those observing, experiencing and attempting to respond to the challenges created by the digital revolution and the very real threats it is creating for humanitarian operations. Our aim is to explore the potential of new tools to create a safer, more responsive operational environment for aid workers.


  • Section 1 – Understanding the Operational Environment focuses on the ways in which communications technology is changing the places in which we work, particularly conflict environments. For this section we selected six articles that provide an overview of the ‘cyber-space’ in which humanitarians operate (Gilman), analyses the particular threats aid agencies are exposed to, (Byrne, a) looks at trends in government surveillance, and (Ayala) explores how technology is changing personal interactions in conflict environments. The latter addresses the concept of ‘homophily’ – the tendency to associate with people who are similar – and links up with the other two pieces that give a personal account of how intimidation messages spread via SMS can impact the work of field staff (Grayman and Anderson), and look at how online dangerous speech can result in violence on the ground (Sambuli and Awori). (Raymond et el) investigate the definitions of humanitarian communication and consider how protections for humanitarian ICT could be developed.
  • Section 2 – Communications Technology and its Impact on Humanitarian Programmes looks at first hand experiences in the use of communications technology at field level for humanitarian programming. From the role of acceptance when implementing technology-based programmes in high-risk contexts (Porcaro and Walker), to Medair’s experience in handling the security implications of rapid data collection during an emergency response in Lebanon (Kaiser and Fielding), this section presents some of the opportunities and challenges communications technology brings for managing security risks. A case study on mobile money systems for distribution of food items by World Vision (Tafere et al.) also offers an insight into how communications technology is changing the way humanitarian assistance is delivered.
  • Section 3 – Using Communications Technology For Security Risk Management provides practical tools that can help mitigate security risks, both digital and physical. Far from providing exhaustive measures or a checklist, this section offers a variety of case studies: it assesses the security advantages of SMS over traditional handheld radios as an organisational communication system, particularly with regard to working with national staff (Mayo), and presents the experience of Action Contre la Faim-Spain in using the Ushahidi platform as a tool for recording and analysing security incidents in real time, and the positive impact this has had on the organisation’s security management (de Palacios). The penultimate article (Gonsalves) discusses how mobile devices can be used to train humanitarians, including through ‘mixed-reality’ environments, where learners move between virtual assignments on the device and the physical environment. The final paper in this publication (Byrne, b) outlines some recommendations and actions for consideration by security focal points.

Suggested citation

Vazquez Llorente R. and Wall, I. (eds.) (2016) Communications technology and humanitarian delivery: challenges and opportunities for security risk management. European Interagency Security Forum (EISF).


Digital Security of LGBTQI Aid Workers: Awareness and Response

This article discusses the digital risks that LGBTQI aid workers may face while working in areas that are hostile to people who identify or are perceived as LGBTQI, and ways in which aid workers and non-governmental organisations can prepare and respond to these risks.

Managing security-related information: a closer look at incident reporting systems and software

This article briefly explores the technological platforms NGOs use to access and share security-related information, particularly focusing on internal incident reporting software.

Managing the Message: Communication and media management in a security crisis

Managing the Message: Communication and Media Management in a Security Crisis offers guidance on communication and media management following a critical incident involving one or more members of national or international staff.