Day 6

Meet Sentry, the life-saving app that warns Syrian civilians about imminent airstrikes

After seeing the death and destruction caused by airstrikes in Syria, a former U.S diplomat helped develop an AI-driven alert system that warns civilians about impending strikes.

The technology has reduced the number of airstrike fatalities in areas where it was used by up to 27 per cent

Civil defence workers and civilians inspecting damaged buildings after airstrikes hit the village of Zardana, in Syria's Idlib province in June 2018. Residents of the province are now bracing for another possible attack. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Listen4:10

On Friday, Reuters reported an airstrike hit parts of Syria's Idlib province following days of threats of a possible attack. Idlib is the last rebel stronghold in Syria, but it's also home to 3 million people.

Civilian casualties have been a major source of collateral damage in the war since its early stages, which is why one former U.S diplomat developed Sentry, a warning system designed to alert civilians about imminent air strikes.

"We recognized [that] we could actually tell people before air strikes arrived so that they could take protective measures themselves," said John Jaeger, CEO and co-founder of Hala Systems, which makes Sentry.

On average, Sentry gives users notice of an impending air strike eight minutes before it happens. 

"Eight minutes, in terms of time to act when there's a very fast airplane traveling relatively short distances, is actually a tremendously long time," Jaeger told Day 6.

Sentry uses a combination of Internet sources, artificial intelligence and remote sensing technology to track and validate information about potential threats.

How it works 

Data on warplanes and their direction can be entered manually into Sentry's system, or it could be generated from audio senors that use acoustic information to identify airplanes. Jaeger and his team take the observations, correlate them and use artificial intelligence to determine when and where an aircraft might arrive.

That warning then goes out on social media and is shared on peer-to-peer messaging platforms. Recently, Jaeger's team also created a device that allows them to remotely activate air raid sirens and emergency lights in hospitals.

Jaeger says it's hard to get good data on the system's impact. But he adds that in areas where the technology has been used, a comparative research has shown the number of airstrike fatalities went down by up to 27 per cent.