Intelligence Analysis

IA students work on new ways to understand the global refugee crisis

A partnership between The Hive, UrtheCast, and JMU

Satellite Over Earth

SUMMARY: Thanks to a partnership between UrtheCast and The Hive, JMU students in the Intelligence Analysis Program are working on new ways to understand the global refugee crisis using imaging cameras in space that are mapping the earth's surface.

Across the globe, 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict or persecution, and approximately 42,000 additional people are displaced each day, according to  

Brian Reich, Project Director for The Hive, [a special project of the United Nations Refugee Agency] who gave a presentation on transforming the way Americans are engaged with the global refugee crisis during the fall semester at JMU.

“The true challenge of the global refugee crisis lies in understanding the struggles of others beyond our bubble,” said Reich. As citizens of the United States, we do not experience – and have a difficult time appreciating – the hardships that refugees have fled from and still face in their future. “This is not just a South American, African, or Middle Eastern challenge. It’s a global challenge,” explained Reich. The world is interconnected; this crisis creates security, economic, logistical, and political challenges that all nations have to face.

Students in “Selected Topics in Intelligence Analysis: Tracking Refugees from Space” are taking on this challenge. They are working on new ways of understanding the global refugee crisis using imaging cameras in space that are mapping the earth’s surface. “We’re using military-grade tech to understand real world issues and intelligence,” said Dr. Tim Walton, professor of the course.

A new partnership between UrtheCast and JMU has made this course possible. Students are given access to recent data to allow them to track current issues as well as test the capabilities of the platform for UrtheCast, provide valuable feedback and identify issues. In return, they are granted free access to data from the UrtheCast remote sensing cameras. The images allow students to track the movements of refugees across the planet.

This approach provides a new dimension in understanding the current refugee crisis. “What intelligence analysts do is research and try to solve problems,” said Walton. Students pick areas from all around the globe, including Australia, Europe, Central America, the Middle East, and Asia and monitor movements of refugees in their area of focus. This allows them to better understand the push and pull factors that cause citizens to leave their homes. Over all, Walton hopes to demonstrate how the crisis can be better understood through the new dimension of earth observation from space.

The Hive’s goal of promoting engagement in the US concerning the refugee crisis aligns with the goals of the course. “Mr. Reich is trying to get more Americans involved in the crisis, and we’re trying to understand the crisis and help others understand it from a new dimension,” said Walton. Once the students have analyzed their data and completed their projects for the course, the reports will be sent to Reich. From there, they will be passed on to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide intelligence on the global refugee crisis. Ultimately, the partnership between JMU, The Hive, and UrtheCast has the potential to promote a better understanding of the global refugee crisis. 

Walton sees great potential for this approach to data and intelligence in the future. “Intelligence doesn’t just have to monitor for terrorist attacks,” said Walton. “It can be used to understand political and cultural issues.” He views the students in his course as pioneers in the new capability offered by earth observation technology. “We are some of the first people on the planet to use data this way.”

Published: Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 21, 2017

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