Formed in 2008, the Sentinel Project is a Canadian non-profit organization that works to prevent mass atrocities – including the crime of genocide – through direct cooperation with at-risk and victimized groups, and through the use of new technologies.
The early warning system (EWS) is the core of our work here at the Sentinel Project because it is the tool we use to identify each situation of concern (SOC) and produce assessments which inform all of our prevention efforts.
Essentially, the EWS combines elements of an information management and decision support system based on theoretical research into why genocides occur and supported by a software platform. The chart below illustrates how the different components of the system fit together.
The EWS is employed as a continual process divided into four phases which are subject to constant review. Each of these phases represents a different type of information gathering and analysis that takes place within different time frames. Together, they form a transparent, repeatable process that will satisfy the information requirements for effective early warning and prevention. Here is how the four phases work:
Risk Assessment – This is where the early warning process begins as analysts examine many of the characteristics which may predispose a country to genocide. The risk factor list will be used here during an annual global survey to help determine which countries require more active monitoring as an SOC. Information will largely be gathered from UN, NGO, governmental, and academic sources. In addition to our own internal use, warnings resulting from this phase will be shared with both threatened communities and other anti-genocide advocacy organizations. Risk assessments may also help to inform structural prevention efforts.
Operational Process Monitoring – Based on Gregory Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide model, this phase begins when a country is designated as an SOC during the risk assessment phase. Operational processes are the components of the overall genocidal process which facilitate the destruction of a group. Conducted on an ongoing basis, the information gathered here will be primarily event-based and will come from media and NGO reports, correspondents on the ground, and contacts with target communities themselves. This is one of the areas where we will leverage social media and the creative use of technology. Information gathered this way will help us to gauge how far the genocidal process has progressed, identify trends and patterns, who the main actors are, establish whether genocidal intent is present, and may inform operational prevention methods. We have created our own model adapted from Gregory Stanton’s 8 Stages of Genocide to categorize in 10 different stages the events we monitor for our situation of concerns.
Vulnerability Assessment – This phase is currently just a concept awaiting future development, but its purpose will be to examine the characteristics of the country and all the actors within an SOC to determine just how vulnerable to attack that the threatened community is. This phase begins the transition from prevention into the field of mitigation and will aid in building target group resilience in the event of the worst-case scenario.
Forecasting – A very difficult process which is also still in the concept stage, forecasting will be the most forward-looking phase of the EWS. This is where analysts will work to predict when genocidal violence may break out, how severe it is likely to be (building upon information from the vulnerability assessment), and what the most likely perpetrator courses-of-action are. This will inform intervention, response, and evacuation efforts.
Work on the EWS is currently focused on finalizing the list of risk factors to be used in the first phase and developing a tool for tracking, tagging, and visualizing events in the second phase. Keep watching this page in the future as we report further development progress.