Sunday, November 22, 2009

Military map symbols

If you've ever worked with U.S. or NATO military units in conflict areas and either peeked at or used their maps, you know they're filled with all sorts of strange symbols. The bad news is if you've never served in some country's army, good luck figuring out what all of the non-intuitive squiggles, boxes and colors mean. The good news is all the symbols are standardized (NATO APP-6a, to be exact) and there are public references available that tell you what they mean - for example, here's a link to a recent U.S. Department guide. If you're into maps by necessity or curiosity, be sure to check out Tom Mouat's MapSymb site, which includes lots of information on military map symbology including downloadable TrueType symbol fonts.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blast-proof wallpaper

Selecting residence and office sites in conflict areas always presents a challenge for humanitarian organizations - especially in places where bombings are a part of the threat model. Sufficiently hardening a structure can be a costly and labor intensive endeavor, but a new technology developed by Berry Plastics may change that. Called X-flex, the product is a composite film that can be applied like wallpaper to reinforce structures from external explosives blasts. Don't just think bombings, though. X-flex is also suitable for strengthening buildings in hurricane and cyclone-prone regions. Check out the product video for more info.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

New Somali pirate threats to NGOs?

Only humanitarian organizations that use cargo ships in the Indian Ocean have had to worry about the threat of Somali pirates. That may be changing with the recent hijacking of a commercial aircraft in the Puntland region. According to a Voice of America news article, members of a pirate gang commandeered the plane, in hopes of holding it and two German journalists for ransom. The incident was peacefully resolved by security forces, but it begs the question of whether increased naval pressure in the Gulf of Aden is forcing pirates to look elsewhere for revenue - such as kidnapping Westerners. (Despite stepped up patrols, it's instructive to point out that according to Lloyds List the pirate's success rate in taking ships and smaller vessels has surged to over 50%.) Readers interested in piracy are encouraged to check out a recently released book by Peter Leeson called "The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates." Leeson takes an economist's look at 18th century piracy and provides fresh perspectives on why pirates behaved and operated as they did. His historical account is fascinating and entertaining and provides insights into what is happening off the Somali coast today.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

U.S. State Department Death Database

The U.S. State Department hosts a little known online database that tracks non-natural deaths of U.S. citizens outside the United States. Select a country and date range to get a list of fatalities (including location, date and cause) is displayed. The database is regularly updated and goes back to 2002. This is a very useful tool for providing an element of risk context for various places in the world.


We're back (and recruiting)...

After a lengthy hiatus, the NGO Security Blog has returned. Look for new posts on a variety of humanitarian security topics coming soon.

We're also looking for a few humanitarian security practitioners who would like to contribute to the blog - either openly or anonymously (if you don't want your organizational affiliation disclosed). If you have the time to make two or more posts a month on relevant topics, send an email to ngosecurity at gmail dot com and let us know you're interested. This is a great opportunity to share information and discussion with the humanitarian community.