Air raid warning tech gives Syrians life-saving minutes

Air raid warning tech gives Syrians life-saving minutes
The Sentry program, launched two years ago by two Americans and a Syrian coder, uses human observers and a network of sensors to compute a predicted impact location when Syrian or allied Russian warplanes take off. (AFP/Omar Hajj Kadour)
Updated 30 August 2018

Air raid warning tech gives Syrians life-saving minutes

Air raid warning tech gives Syrians life-saving minutes
  • The Sentry program, launched two years ago by two Americans and a Syrian coder, uses human observers and a network of sensors
  • The resulting estimate can then trigger air raid sirens near the target zone and send warnings to mobile phone applications

MAARET AL-SHUREEN, Syria: Khaled Al-Idlibi was still speeding away with his brother perched on the back of his motorbike when he heard the air strike that levelled his neighbors’ house in northwest Syria.
Those crucial extra minutes were thanks to a warning system that could help save civilian lives in an expected regime offensive on Idlib province, home to the last significant rebel-held area.
The Sentry program, launched two years ago by two Americans and a Syrian coder, uses human observers and a network of sensors to compute a predicted impact location when Syrian or allied Russian warplanes take off.
The resulting estimate can then trigger air raid sirens near the target zone and send warnings to mobile phone applications, giving residents more time to take cover.
Idlibi, a 23-year-old media activist, lives in Maaret Al-Shureen, a rebel-controlled town in Idlib.
On June 10 last year, he was picking up belongings he had left behind while fleeing from an earlier air strike when his smartphone suddenly lit up.
“I received an alert on Telegram that a new warplane had taken off toward the same area,” he said, recounting that he and his brother jumped on their motorbike and rode to about a kilometer from the predicted impact spot.
Idlibi said “only three children were wounded that day” and estimated that up to 15 lives may have been saved by the Sentry alert.
First launched in August 2016, the Sentry technology has become a sort of weather forecast service for many Syrians.
The system’s creators say that it has proved its worth, including during the intense air campaign against the rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta, earlier this year.
“We saw a huge spike in use as the campaign ramped up,” John Jaeger, a co-founder of the Hala Systems firm that developed the technology used in Sentry, told AFP.
Jaeger, a former US diplomat and technologist who was looking for new ways to prevent civilian deaths in Syria, created the system with US entrepreneur Dave Levin and a Syrian coder whose identity is kept secret.

The system — which Jaeger says is currently funded by Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark — requires a human network on the ground to monitor areas and set up sensors.
It is therefore limited in which zones it can cover. It does not, for example, provide updates on US-led coalition warplanes targeting the Daesh group in air strikes that have also routinely killed civilians.
Hala Systems estimates that its warning system is available to around two million people in Syria, most of them in Idlib.
Jaeger said that, while reliable statistics were hard to come by, data analysis showed that 27 percent fewer people died in air strikes on areas where Sentry was used.
Residents who get an alert via social media, local radio stations or the air raid sirens that Hala triggers remotely have an average of eight minutes to seek shelter, Jaeger said.
The White Helmets, a network of rescuers in rebel-held areas, are actively involved in the development of Sentry, a technology that gives their staff extra time to mobilize.
“The civil defense’s technicians are trying to develop this service so that it reaches civilians even without Internet,” the warning system’s coordinator in northern Syria, Ibrahim Abu Laith, told AFP in Idlib.
He said 191 awareness sessions were held in recent weeks across parts of northern Syria vulnerable to government air strikes, so civilians know how to access Sentry.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, more than 350,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian conflict.
That figure includes around 33,000 civilians killed by regime and Russian air strikes and helicopter attacks.
Jaeger said he had not detected any attempt to disable the Sentry system by Syria’s regime.
“They don’t say they support it but I think they should. It’s nobody’s goal to kill as many civilians as possible,” he said.
“If Russia or a government aircraft specifically wants to target you, there is little this system can do for you... We just want to prevent as many preventable deaths as possible.”


Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Updated 05 December 2020

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

Kuwait parliamentary race kicks off under shadow of pandemic
  • More than 567,000 voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote
  • Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait is holding parliamentary elections Saturday under the shadow of Covid-19, with facilities laid on for citizens infected with the disease to vote in special polling stations.
The oil-rich country has enforced some of the strictest regulations in the Gulf to combat the spread of the coronavirus, imposing a months-long nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
But while some curbs have eased, over-the-top election events that traditionally draw thousands for lavish banquets are out, masks remain mandatory and temperature checks are routine when venturing outdoors.
Infected people or those under mandatory quarantine are usually confined to home, with electronic wristbands monitoring their movements.
But in an effort to include all constituents, authorities have designated five schools — one in each electoral district — where they can vote, among the 102 polling stations across the country.
Election officials are expected to be in full personal protective equipment.
Kuwait has a lively political life with a parliament elected for four-year terms that enjoys wide legislative powers.
Political disputes are often fought out in the open.
Parties are neither banned nor recognized, but many groups — including Islamists — operate freely as de facto parties.
But with more than 143,917 coronavirus cases to date, including 886 deaths, the election campaign has been toned down this year.

A worker cleans desks at a polling station ahead of parliamentary elections in Abdullah Salem, Kuwait, on December 3, 2020. (REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee)

The polls, which open at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), will be the first since the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, took office in September following the death of his half-brother, 91-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
But with the opposition weakened in recent years, no major political shifts are expected.
A few electoral banners dotted through the streets have been the only reminder of the nation’s political calendar.
Instead, this year’s campaign has mainly been fought on social networks and in the media.
More than 567,000 Kuwaiti voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote, including 29 women.
Ahmad Deyain, secretary general of the opposition group Kuwaiti Progressive Movement, said he expected a lower voter turnout than previous years after the dulled-down campaign.
The usual themes are a constant though, from promises to fight corruption and plans to address youth employment, to freedom of expression, housing, education and the thorny issue of the “bidoon,” Kuwait’s stateless minority.
From 2009 to 2013, and especially after the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, the country went through a period of political turmoil, with parliament and cabinets dissolved several times after disputes between lawmakers and the ruling family-led government.
“Kuwait is still undergoing a political crisis since 2011, and that page has not yet turned,” Deyain told AFP.
“There are still disputes over the electoral system and mismanagement of state funds.
Deyain said he expected some parliamentarians in the new National Assembly to be “more dynamic” in trying to resolve some issues.
Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, and women in 2005 won the right to vote and to stand for election.