Mission Inspired, Data Driven.

Palantir Philanthropy Engineering in 2013

We believe that with good data and the right technology, people working together can change the world for the better. In 2013, our philanthropic partners vindicated this belief time and again. They revolutionized humanitarian response efforts from Tornado Alley to the Philippines, found and helped victims of the modern slave trade, exposed arms trafficking in conflict zones, and increased our understanding of how we can better serve our nation's veterans. We're proud to share the stories of what we accomplished together this year.

We have a full-time team of engineers who work with non-profits to revolutionize the way they use data in pursuit of their missions. We call it Philanthropy Engineering.

As engineers, we are trained to apply technology and passion to problem-solving, iterating relentlessly, with laser focus. We do this for a reason. We want to maximize the good we can do. It’s where empathy meets execution. By partnering with proven and promising organizations and donating our technology and engineering expertise, we are helping non-profits close the gap between reality and their inspired visions for the world.

Alex Karp, CEO
Palantir’s software platform helps solve the hardest and most important problems in the world. Some institutions have the resources to pay for our products, and some don’t. Whatever the situation, our approach with all our clients is the same: to deploy our products to transform their institutions and to maximize their results. — Alex Karp, CEO

In 2013, our Philanthropy Engineering team focused on four of the hardest, most important problems we could find.

Humanitarian Response

Between 2011 and 2012, 450 million people were affected by natural disaster, and more are now living in areas at risk of catastrophe than ever before.

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Human Trafficking

With millions of victims trafficked each year, the silent epidemic of modern slavery has infiltrated communities around the world at a shocking scale.

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Illicit Networks

A multi-billion-dollar global black market pumps tons of weapons and illicit goods into conflict zones and sanctioned states around the world.

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Reintegrating Veterans

There are over 22 million U.S. veterans, 10% of which fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many of whom aren’t accessing the services they need.

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Natural disasters claim the lives of thousands, displace millions more, and cause billions in economic damage.
Team Rubicon and Direct Relief had the manpower and medical supplies to provide relief to victims, but needed a way to distribute it efficiently in disaster zones.

With their data and our technology, in 2013 these organizations drove key innovations in the way humanitarian relief is delivered.

  1. 01.

    Collecting damage data in the field on mobile devices.

    They used to rely on pen, paper, and hand-delivery, but now relief workers are using Palantir Mobile and Palantir MIMOSA to conduct damage assessments and send them back in real time to planning teams.

  2. 02.

    Planning and coordinating response operations.

    With the latest data from the field integrated into our analytic platform, relief workers organize and dispatch teams quickly to the hardest hit areas and most vulnerable populations.

  3. 03.

    Managing and sharing information.

    With dozens of integrated data sources, our platform provides a constantly-updating picture of the disaster area to make sure the right people have the right information at the right time.

Akshay Krishnaswamy
After the tornadoes in Adairsville, Georgia, Palantir helped volunteers survey hundreds of damaged houses in a single day—a process which used to be done with a pencil and paper, over the course of weeks. That's when I knew Palantir, and I, could make a difference. — Akshay Krishnaswamy, Philanthropic Engineer
Josh Weyburne
Disaster response is messy. Really messy. There are thousands of volunteers and hundreds of agencies all trying to help, but no comprehensive way of knowing what organizations are doing what or where. What we’re building has the potential to reduce that friction and break down some of those barriers, and that's pretty exciting. — Josh Weyburne, Forward Deployed Engineer
Bobby Prochnow
Working with the philanthropy team (my day job's on our high-scale mapping team) is all about delivering desperately-needed technological improvements, taking the abstract code I write and applying it to real humanitarian use. I can see the difference I'm making. — Bobby Prochnow, Software Engineer

Revolutionizing Disaster Response

Team Rubicon

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Operation Greased Lightning
Far Rockaway, New York

In October 2012 Superstorm Sandy killed more than 250 people and left $60B in damages. A 25 year-old Palantir engineer from Egypt (who had been shot by a rubber bullet in Tahrir Square) sat in a freezing Brooklyn warehouse to optimize Palantir Gotham for our partner Team Rubicon so they could dispatch volunteers where they were needed most. 14,000 spontaneous volunteers were mobilized and efficiently distributed where they could do the most good.

What had to be done first? Muck out a basement? Cut down a tree? Dig a house out of the sand? Powered by Red Bull and granola bars, we developed capabilities to get volunteers where they were needed most. Using smart phones and iPads donated by Palantir, volunteers filed requests for assistance through Palantir Mobile, as they happened.

We trained the Team Rubicon staff and volunteers to use Palantir Gotham, put them at the forefront, to maximize responsiveness. Plus, even before the storm hit, Direct Relief partnered with us to do data analysis of the likely path of the storm and analyze real-time weather data after it hit, so they could pre-position supplies and medicine and best provide emergency medical supplies afterwards.

Helping the Most Vulnerable

Direct Relief

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Video Credit: Direct Relief

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Operation Starting Gun
Moore, OK

Less than 24 hours after the tornado touched down, Team Rubicon and Palantir were on the go. The 205 mph winds that ripped through Moore on May 20th, 2013, killed 23 citizens, including nine children. More than 12,000 homes were destroyed. We set up HQ with Team Rubicon in a tent in a Home Depot parking lot and trained volunteers on Palantir Mobile devices. They completed 450 jobs, cleaning up damage and getting folks back on their feet at over 200 locations in 30 days.

In the field, volunteers used Palantir Mobile to report conditions in real time back to headquarters, where they used Palantir Gotham to prioritize incoming work orders, create and revise operational plans and run metrics on completed jobs. Mobile's reporting feature captured information and images and transmitted them back to base. Users dynamically modified the "area of operations" according to the latest information from the field.

As many as 25 teams simultaneously canvassed the city to produce the structural assessment reports essential to work flows: where this roof needs tarping, where that debris needs removal, who required the most, and most urgent, help. In that first week, Team Rubicon volunteers completed over 1,300 structural assessment reports, eventually surveying over 3,000.

Operation Seabird
Tacloban, Philippines

In November 2013 the most powerful hurricane ever recorded to make landfall, Typhoon Haiyan, claimed the lives of over 6,000 in that country alone. It displaced millions more. Within four days we had five engineers on the ground. We helped our partners Team Rubicon and Direct Relief coordinate their relief efforts by identifying key health facilities with pressing need.

One glitch? In some of the most remote and damaged areas, there was no cell connectivity, which meant we couldn’t use Palantir Mobile. So, partnering with Delorme, we hacked together a purely satellite-based version of Palantir Mobile that allowed for two-way communications without cell reception. We called it MIMOSA (Mini-Mobile: Satellite).

Direct Relief then purchased 130 InReach devices, which are equipped for GPS tracking anywhere in the world and can send and receive 160-character, SMS messages over satellite. Our development team built a plug-in to use the GPS data for real-time tracking of volunteers in the field—viewable in Raven, our powerful web-based geospatial analysis platform—and our Forward Deployed Engineers wrote a script to parse messages directly into Palantir to make analysis simple. We were up and running.

Each year, human traffickers reap an estimated $32 billion in profits from the enslavement of 21 million people worldwide.
NCMEC and Polaris Project collect data on probable cases of trafficking that is used to serve and liberate victims.

With their data and our technology, in 2013 these organizations evolved anti-trafficking efforts.

  1. 01.

    Integrating public and proprietary databases.

    Our platform brings hotline tips, case records, imagery and more into a single place, so anti-trafficking organizations can use the best information to do the most good.

  2. 02.

    Connecting the dots between individual cases.

    Analysts use Palantir to uncover hidden connections, patterns and trends in their data, so they can build cases against traffickers and understand which interventions work, where.

  3. 03.

    Rapidly responding to trafficking victims.

    Call center specialists can now search their data to find service organizations and make referrals in seconds, so they can give callers a lifeline when time is of the essence.

Malina Kirn
When NCMEC decided to make Palantir their analytical program of record, I was so proud they trusted us to put their eggs in our basket. When the work you do really matters, sometimes the weight of the responsibility can feel a little daunting. It's all worth it though, our software has helped them make great strides—like when they cracked a multi-state child sex trafficking ring. What a rewarding experience that was! — Malina Kirn, Forward Deployed Engineer

Staying Ahead of Predators


Finding Missing and Exploited Children

To assist law enforcement in finding and rescuing missing and exploited children, analysts at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) must sort through mountains of data. With Palantir, work that took hours or days can be accomplished in seconds. They are able to create “human maps,” mapping findings geospatially and revealing links between people, places and groups.

The platform helps our partner provide deeper insight and assistance to law enforcement, in cases old and new. By digitizing aging documents and importing them into Palantir, NCMEC analysts make them searchable and create structure that can lead to new insights for cases that are more than 20 years old. Using Palantir, analysts are also able to see if any current cases share any properties (phone number, address, Social Security Number, clues to location) which can help law enforcement locate missing or exploited children, or the offenders.

In one California case, a 17-year-old girl was reported missing and suspected of being a victim of sex trafficking. Through various searches, a NCMEC analyst found multiple posts online that advertised the missing child for sex. Using information in the ads, the analyst tied them to other posts from the same pimp. Analysis eventually included over 50 advertisements, nine different females and a trail covering five states. And a Palantir link analysis graph allowed law enforcement to clearly see the large scope of the ring. This insight helped them link the pimp to a multitude of other crimes and, crucially, other girls he victimized.

Helping the Victims of Trafficking

Polaris Project

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Countering modern-day slavery

Our partner Polaris Project has assembled one of the most extensive databases on human trafficking in the US. This database of trafficking reports and trusted organizations, which can provide victim services or critical assistance in case of emergency, is key to an effective response to human trafficking.

Previously, Polaris call specialists had to cross-reference online map resources and databases with Word documents that included more than 200 geographically-specific protocols in order to find the right nearby emergency response services, health services, shelter, or legal aid for victims of human trafficking.

Now, with the click of a button in Palantir, they can access these key resources in seconds, respond immediately during crisis calls, and connect victims to the critical services they need.

In addition, analysts look at data from over 100,000 hotline calls to help understand, and end, the scourge of modern- day slavery. With Palantir, they get the big picture: everything from mapping the routes of traveling sales crews or carnivals across the US to tracking sex trafficking at truck stops. Deciphering patterns by comparing hotline calls to trucking routes and analyzing links between cases, they are attempting to shine a light on specific networks with the goal of developing targeted interventions that strike at their roots.

Hidden networks of smugglers, pirates, arms dealers, shell companies, and corrupt officials power a global black market of dangerous goods.
Expert C4ADS researchers knew the right questions to ask of their mountains of open source data, but needed better technology to connect the dots and expose the networks that fuel atrocities.

With their data and our technology, in 2013 C4ADS evolved open source intelligence analysis.

  1. 01.

    Structuring the unstructured.

    Most open source data is unstructured, meaning it exists in the form of text or images. With Palantir, researchers can tag entities in this unstructured data, allowing them to discover connections across data sources.

  2. 02.

    Tracing the digital trail.

    Our analytic platform allows researchers to connect the dots between court records, shipping manifests, news reports, public records, and other open source data to build out suspected illicit networks.

  3. 03.

    Putting illicit networks on the map.

    Researchers use our analytic capabilities to visualize and examine their data to tell the story of an illicit network unfolding in time and space.

Zach Romanow
Unraveling illicit networks, the raw data is dirty and incomplete on the best of days. And as good as algorithms and automation are, for complicated analysis you still need people. With Palantir, they can be exponentially more efficient and thorough when trying to identify trends and find the proverbial needle in the haystack of global commerce. — Zach Romanow, Philanthropic Engineer

Tracking nefarious shipments

After 10 months using Palantir, C4ADS mapped the so-called "Odessa Network" of ships, organizations, and officials linked to the trafficking of arms into Syria from Ukraine. They discovered unknown or under-reported arms transfers; specific companies and individuals facilitating those transfers; and familial, financial and professional links to governments. Shortly after its release, one of the ships named in the report was pulled over by the Greek Coast Guard with 20,000 AK–47s and other ammo aboard, bound for Syria. Greek officials cited the Odessa Network research directly.

Over the past year, C4ADS relied on Palantir’s ability to combine multiple, disparate open source data sets to reveal a complicated network of ships, transport companies, and key individuals involved in suspicious transactions. Their research into enablers of conflict has also led them to investigate illegal shipments of so-called “conflict charcoal” from Somalia, which is banned by the UN because charcoal profits are known to fund the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

Palantir facilitated C4ADS' work mapping networks of maritime shell companies and international organizations who have been, knowingly or unknowingly, likely enablers of conflict in Somalia and Syria. With the Palantir Gotham platform, C4ADS uses data to understand conflict, security and development around the world. They are now working to map ivory seizures, investigating how the illicit trade of ivory funds terrorists and insurgents in Africa.

In the U.S., many veterans struggle with unemployment, homelessness, and the debilitating physical and mental wounds of war.
CNAS researchers wanted to use data from the VA, DOD, Census Bureau and others to understand how we can better serve veterans, but lacked the technology to map the population and its needs.

With their data and our technology, in 2013 CNAS changed the way organizations understand veteran needs.

  1. 01.

    Integrating disparate quantitative data sources.

    Several U.S. Government agencies have extensive data on the veteran population, but it is scattered, inconsistent, and stored in different formats. Palantir Metropolis brought it all together in a single place.

  2. 02.

    Developing models of veteran populations.

    Researchers model veteran demographics, rates of employment, urbanization, homelessness and more to arrive at a comprehensive picture of the current veterans population and the possible future changes.

  3. 03.

    Understanding veteran needs and services.

    Researchers are able to understand trends and changes in veteran needs, map the many service organizations seeking to help veterans, and identify any “gaps in service” where particular needs are not being met.

Caroline Henne
It's incredible, the work CNAS researchers are doing, taking datasets that have been publicly available for years and transforming them into impressive new visuals. And they have really cool plans for data modeling in Palantir coming up, stuff that could make a huge difference to policymakers and veterans organizations. Most of all, to vets themselves. — Caroline Henne, Forward Deployed Engineer
Caroline Henne
There's something great about being able to use what you've built. But it's something entirely different, something supremely fulfilling, to be able to use what you've built to benefit those really in need. — Brandon Burr, Software Engineer
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Veterans Data Project

Loads of veteran-related data, from the Veterans Administration (VA), Department of Defense (DoD), Census Bureau and others, is publicly available. But it’s unorganized, so hard to make sense of or re-purpose for other means. Researchers from our partner, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), worked for several months to gather this valuable data, then used our Metropolis platform to begin standardizing and analyzing the information.

The first integration of VA data in the fall of 2013 produced visualizations of current VA facilities, the current veteran population, and official population projections through 2040 down to the US county level. Further data was integrated tracking VA expenditures by county. As the Veterans Data Project matures, CNAS researchers plan to include more data from the VA, DoD, and Census Bureau, as well as specialized data on suicide rates, homelessness, and unemployment. They’ll also use the analytic tools of Palantir Metropolis to develop models for the future veteran population in different social, political, and economic scenarios.

2013 was a big year for Philanthropy Engineering at Palantir, and 2014 will be even bigger.
We will strengthen our existing partnerships and explore exciting new possibilities. If these stories have inspired you to bring technology, data, and people together in pursuit of a better world, come join us on our journey.