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Aerial Recovery

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Case Study

March 2, 2023

Aerial Recovery is a non-profit organization that trains and deploys Humanitarian Special Operators to conduct rescue and response missions in some of the most difficult situations caused by natural and manmade disasters, and combat sex trafficking. We sat down with Nate Goggans, GSOC Operator at Aerial Recovery, to talk about how open source data and real-time crisis alerts has drastically reduced the time it takes to gather actionable intelligence and support emergency response efforts.

Note: Nate’s answers have been slightly edited for clarity and brevity but you can hear his full comments by watching the video.

What value has samdesk brought to your team and your organization?

When the war in Ukraine started on February 24, we kicked off our OSINT gathering efforts. For days, we barely slept and spent hours scouring Telegram, Twitter, and Facebook for any updates on the situation. The biggest challenge was translating all the posts into English using Google Translate because I don't speak or read Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, or any of the other languages in the area. It was difficult to tell which posts were important, so I had to go through each one manually and determine their relevance.

To validate the information, we had to look at the source and consider if they were a Russian spreading disinformation about a Ukrainian building that was struck or a Russian checkpoint in Ukraine. It was a time-consuming process, and it took about two hours to get one usable and actionable piece of intelligence. And even then, we weren't sure if it would be useful in the field.

With the war moving quickly and the situation being so rough in the beginning, this process consumed all our time every day. It was a challenging experience.

How important are real-time alerts to your operations in the field?

Life was rough before, but with tools like samdesk it's made things ten times easier. Now I can see everything translated in real-time, and determine what's relevant and what's not. With this intel, we can build situational awareness and predict potential outcomes. It's allowed us to be proactive rather than reactive, which is a game-changer.

In the past, we would rely on our instincts and our immediate surroundings to guide us. But with this new technology, we can see the bigger picture and analyze trends in our battlespace. This helps us make informed decisions not only in the moment but also for future operations.

And it's not just the active intelligence that we're receiving, but all the different data points that are collected. From demographics to other relevant data points, this information helps us create a more comprehensive picture of our battlespace. We can now pre-position equipment and plan ahead, taking us from reactive to proactive.

How have real-time crisis alerts improved your operations?

Here’s another example from Ukraine. I was sitting at my desk when I saw a samdesk alert pop up on my screen. It was a live video on Twitter showing someone off the coast of Crimea watching cruise missiles being launched from a cruiser.

I recognized a few key landmarks in the video and knew exactly where the missiles were heading. So, I quickly looked up the cruising speed of that type of missile and drew a line on a map to track their path.

I hit a stopwatch and started watching as the missiles flew over Odessa. As they passed by, Twitter alerts started popping up from people saying they heard a distinct noise from the missiles. With all of this information, we were able to track the missiles all the way across Ukraine, and eventually pinpoint their target as Lviv.

I had a team in Lviv that needed to be alerted of the incoming missiles, so I got on the phone with them and told them to take shelter immediately. At first, they didn't believe me, but as they headed to the shelter, the air raid alarms started going off and the missiles hit their target.

By using open source intelligence gathering, we were able to provide our team with a seven-minute head start on the Ukrainian defense system. That shows the power of this open source intelligence gathering apparatus.

What is an example of using a real-time alert to get ahead of a crisis?

So we were gearing up to respond to Hurricane Ian, which involved a lot of preparation and gathering intelligence. Sometimes our PowerPoint decks were up to 50 pages long. But one of the first things I do is identify the key locations that will be affected by the hurricane and set up a samdesk feed to monitor them.

We also look at trends and other data points to plot our course of action. In this case, we set off from Nashville at around 6:30 am, a day before the hurricane was expected to hit landfall in Tampa, Florida. As we were driving, we noticed the storm was turning and saw samdesk alerts about infrastructure being affected further south.

This meant the storm was now ahead of schedule and heading towards the Fort Myers area. By using the intelligence we had gathered, we were able to see where power outages and damage were occurring and avoid those areas. We ended up skirting around the entire storm and landing in Fort Myers just as the winds were dying down.

As soon as we arrived, we saw people emerging from their homes and vehicles that had been trapped by the storm and we immediately started executing. We were there 7 hours ahead of even the first responders and, in fact, hospitals were still on lockdown. 

What value has samdesk brought to your team and your organization?

One of the biggest feel good is we had an operator who was on a Pakistan mission and hadn't been on a mission since before we employed these new tools. He came back saying, “I had never felt so supported and so protected in all my operations at Aerial.”

And I mean, that's the feel good moment that you have when these hardened operators say, “I didn't feel this safe when I was in the military.” And you have another operator that says, “I've been in a war zone, multiple, multiple times. We didn't have half this ability that we have here.” You know, you don't want to pat yourself on the back, but you walk away patting yourself on the back. It's a really good feeling.

Everything has this value and reward or the ROI in investing in these kind of tools is incredibly, incredibly worth it. Samdesk has really changed everything. And I'd say that because I mean it. We could not be doing what we're doing without this tool.

It has really been a game changer for us. 

Check out the full conversation between Nate, and samdesk Founder and CEO James Neufeld on YouTube on how real-time alerts support rescue and responses missions around the world.