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Do GPS trackers only provide NGOs with the illusion of security?

by Chris Abbott

Satellite map

NGOs are increasingly using GPS trackers to monitor the location and status of their staff in the field. When used correctly, trackers can help an organisation meet its duty of care obligations and provide staff in the field with a lifeline in the event of a security incident, such as a kidnapping. And in places where car-jackings and thefts are common, GPS trackers can help organisations track vehicles and other assets and assist in their recovery.

However, to work as intended, the right GPS tracker, secure tracking platform and monitoring and response must all be used together. If one side of this ‘tracking triangle’ is missing or inappropriate, then trackers will provide nothing more than the illusion of security.

The 'tracking triangle' consists of GPS trackers, a tracking platform and monitoring and response. If one side of the triangle is missing, GPS trackers will only provide NGOs with the illusion of security.Click To Tweet

There is a huge range of devices and platforms on the market. The key differences are how the device locates the user or asset and how it then communicates that location – and sometimes other information, such as short messages – to the tracking platform being used, which itself is another key consideration.

Most personal and vehicle trackers use the GPS satellite system to locate the user or asset anywhere in the world to within 10 metres. Some devices can also use Wifi geolocation and cell tower triangulation to provide location information when the tracker is indoors, for example, or can use the alternative GLONASS satellite system. Trackers can then use GSM (mobile/cell), Wifi and/or one of several satellite networks, such as Iridium or Globalstar, to communicate that location to the online tracking platform.

Each of these technologies has pros and cons. Which technology is most appropriate comes down to the location in which the staff or assets will be located or may be moved to. But even when the right technology has been selected, there are other factors to consider, such as whether the device needs to be rugged, waterproof and/or covert and how long the battery needs to last between charges. There is no one size fits all solution.

For NGOs looking for a cost-effective and comprehensive solution the market can be baffling. Key questions to ask include:

  • Do we need to track individual staff members, vehicles and other assets, or both?
  • Will the individuals or assets be in urban environments or remote locations, or both?
  • If kidnapped, might staff be moved from urban environments to remote locations or vice versa?
  • Who will monitor the tracking platform at headquarters?
  • How would we respond to a panic alert, broken geofence or missed check-in?

As a Vismo partner and expert in this field, Open Briefing can help you answer these questions and advise you on the right tracking solution for your needs and budget across all three sides of the tracking triangle. Our modular approach means that we can meet the tracking needs of the smallest human rights organisation or largest humanitarian aid agency.

Please contact us to discuss your needs and request a quote or click here for more information.