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Five ways to use SMS in disaster management

In times of crisis, SMS is one of the most powerful tools used by government and relief organisations to strengthen their risk management efforts. During a large-scale natural disaster or epidemic – such as COVID-19 – reliable and effective communication is crucial, which is why so many of these organisations turn to SMS. When implemented and used correctly, SMS helps in relief team communications, provides support to remote areas, and ultimately saves lives.

Here are just a few examples of how SMS is being used to aid humanitarian efforts around the globe:

Real-time updates

Real-time SMS alerts and updates are sent to help keep citizens informed and updated at all times. For example, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, some government organisations are sending SMSes to their constituents with the daily COVID-19 statistics.

Incident reporting

In many countries, governments encourage citizens to use SMS to report any disasters or civil emergencies in their area. By setting up a two-way communication channel, authorities are able to rapidly respond to various incidents, issues and situations that arise.

Relief efforts

SMS is being used by relief organisations to notify and enlist volunteers. These SMSes contain all relevant details, including transport options, how many volunteers are needed and what is expected of them. A great example of where this has been particularly useful is in underprivileged communities where food parcels are needed on a regular basis; many NGOs are using SMS to co-ordinate these deliveries and to stay in touch with volunteers.

Emergency notifications

Whether there’s an upcoming weather threat, a bomb scare, a fire warning, or any other potential emergency, automated SMSes are being sent to all citizens telling them of the impending threat. These SMSes also outline the correct steps and measures that need to be followed in order to stay safe. One of our clients, the Mexican Amateur Radio Union, has integrated the BulkSMS API with a Raspberry Pi computer, which is connected to various digital mobile radios around the city. This system is ready to send SMS messages via the radio SMS gateway when emergencies or natural disasters affect communications infrastructure in the area.

Donation requests

In cases where organisations need extra funding, bulk messages are sent to relevant contact groups, asking for donations. This provides a way to generate funding quickly in response to disasters or emergencies.

Clear communication becomes almost impossible during large-scale disasters and times of crisis. However, because SMS does not rely on Internet connection and is available on all mobile phones, it provides a powerful solution for disseminating real-time updates, co-ordinating efforts, sending emergency notifications, and ultimately saving lives.

Editorial contacts
Shereen Griebenow [email protected]