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SMART and well-Connected: reserve patrol data system adds communications capacity

  • The SMART software helps protected area rangers and managers report, analyze, and manage field data to target their patrolling and management activities.
  • A new extension to SMART allows a user to centrally manage data uploaded from multiple sites and syncs changes made from various users of a database.
  • SMART Connect wirelessly communicates field observation data from rangers on patrol to managers and colleagues watching remotely; instantaneous data transmission to the central server requires rangers have coverage by wifi or a cellular network.

Increasingly well-funded poaching gangs, as well as the pressure of ever-growing surrounding human populations, have made protecting wildlife and nature reserves a sometimes dangerous and uncertain way to make a living.

To meet these threats with generally understaffed patrol teams, managers at several hundred protected areas globally have enlisted the free, open-source Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) to make their patrolling more strategic.

Rangers on patrol collect observational and location data on data sheets, a GPS device, or an electronic data collection tool, such as CyberTracker. A team member later uploads data files or enters the information manually into the SMART software, where it is stored for display and analysis.

Rangers in Nigeria train on use of SMART.
Rangers in Nigeria train on use of SMART mobile data collection. Photo credit: Richard Bergl, NC Zoo

The results of any given patrol effort might include a single noteworthy arrest, animal carcass, or hunting camp. When compiled and analyzed, however, such data and their locations can help managers adjust their management and patrolling effort to meet an area’s specific challenges.

Reserve managers use SMART to store and manage the data and to generate statistics, maps, and other visual displays to see where rangers go, what they see and where, and how they respond. With the aim of helping managers focus limited resources to make their patrols more effective, the software allows managers to assemble and manage disparate field observation data, generate statistics, see trends, and adjust their patrolling accordingly.

The SMART developers have added a new extension to the SMART reporting tool—SMART Connect—that speeds communication of the information collected by patrols in the field with their managers and colleagues.

Koh Rong Archipelago: Cambodia's first large-scale Marine Protected Area. The use of SMART in Cambodia’s first multiple-use MPA has begun providing local fisheries officers with spatial and temporal information on fisheries infractions, enabling them to issue 28 warnings to offending boats during the first five months of operation.
Rangers in Koh Rong Archipelago, Cambodia’s first large-scale Marine Protected Area. The use of SMART in Koh Rong has provided local fisheries officers with spatial and temporal information on fisheries infractions, enabling them to issue 28 warnings to offending boats during the first five months of operation. Photo credit: Marianne Teoh | FFI

SMART Connect is an optional plug-in to the SMART software that allows users to store and manage data on a web-connected database. It can be installed in the cloud or on local, on-site servers. The new add-on should enable users to improve and scale their data management with several new capacities.

1. Centrally manage multiple sites: The Connect extension manages the flow of data in the cloud so that multiple people can work on a particular conservation area database at the same time. The extension syncs any changes made to the central server so that all users are working on an updated version of staff deployment, field data, queries, maps, and reports. The plug-in also permits non-SMART users, such as decision-makers in other government departments, access to the reporting results.

“By enabling communication and data-sharing across multiple sites, and even national protected area networks, Connect streamlines information management and facilitates more informed, adaptive decision-making across all stakeholders,” said Drew Cronin, the Program Manager hosted by Wildlife Conservation Society on behalf of the SMART Partnership that develops the software, in an email to Mongabay-Wildtech.

Environmental agencies in several countries—including Belize, Cambodia, and the Philippines—have begun to apply the Connect extension to compile the data collected at various conservation areas into centralized databases for their reserve networks. The Belize Fisheries Department created a centralized SMART Connect database that automatically assembles data from fisheries officers and rangers in the country’s marine protected areas system.

In the Philippines, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) staff collect data in nearly 200 different conservation areas using mobile devices and send information back wirelessly to a national SMART Connect database.

“We have integrated SMART in the [USAID-developed] Lawin Forest and Biodiversity Protection System,” said Nonito M. Tamayo, director of DENR’s Forest Management Bureau, in a media release. “SMART Connect…aids our decision makers in analyzing and visualizing data gathered from the field for developing policies and management interventions toward sustainable forest management.”

2. Transmit data from the field in real time: The new cloud-based add-on allows conservation area rangers to transmit their patrol data in real time—if a cellular network is available—to allow a more rapid response to an incident or intrusion into a park.

Sami Ullah Majeed, a ranger from the United Arab Emirates commented while observing colleagues in Cambodia catch a wildlife poacher red-handed, “SMART comes in handy here as these incidents are recorded on a digital platform, and [it] is easier for the managers to see and devise a plan to address such issues. And with SMART Connect, the data delivery will be in real time and any support or instructions can be delivered in real time.”

Community residents use mobile data collection tools during SMART patrols in the Philippines.
Community residents use mobile data collection tools during SMART patrols in the Philippines. Photo credit: USAID/B+WISER

3. Add alerts to certain field observations: The new extension also allows ranger teams to configure their patrol planning with an alert trigger associated with a particular type of observation, such as a new carcass or armed intruder. If a ranger logs such an observation on his SMART-configured mobile device, the observation and the alert are automatically sent to the Connect server via the device’s cellular network (if available) so that colleagues are notified and respond to the situation.

Cronin remarked, “We initially planned alerts for critical events like poachers being seen, but are seeing users propose using them for other needs, for example, flagging when rangers take a break on patrol. The alerts are fed into an secure online map, which allows the operations room team to slice and review the data, for example, based on alert priority or observation type.”

Rapid communication in SMART Connect relies on the availability of a wifi or cellular network, so its capacity to transmit either field data or alerts in real time may be limited in sites that are remote or densely forested.

“Connect facilitates data transfer in ‘as-close-to-real-time’ as a particular site’s infrastructure allows,” explained Cronin. “So, for SMART patrols implementing Connect that are within cellular range, they are able to transmit data and alerts instantaneously to a central Connect server. For patrols in areas where there is no cellular coverage, data can be transmitted as soon as rangers are back within coverage or have internet.”

Patrols in the Congo determine their location.
Rangers in the Congo determine their location and destination while on patrol. Photo credit: Forrest Hogg | WCS

4. Integrate with other programs: The new add-on allows users to bring in data from other programs to enhance the program’s display and analysis potential and offer users more services.

“SMART Connect has a suite of APIs for integrating data,” said Cronin. “We have built out some standard integrations and are finalizing others, like Global Forest Watch and Camera Trap integrations. It’s an open system, and all our code is 100% open source, so if any of our users want to move forward with an integration ahead of us developing a standard integration, we’re ready to support them.”

He added that SMART is currently developing integrations with:

According to Cronin, the development team sees the Connect extension “as the first step in continual evolution of SMART from law enforcement monitoring tool to a cutting-edge, holistic protected area management platform.”

The Connect extension launched on October 5, 2017, though test training on the new version has taken place over the last few months at partner sites. Nine partner groups have committed long-term support for the SMART tool, and it has been used at hundreds of terrestrial and marine sites in more than 45 countries globally.

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