SMS crucial for crisis communications

When it comes to public communications during times of widespread disaster, there is no one solution for all scenarios, a recent study has found.

The findings are from a comprehensive 18 month study of the relief effort following Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines by four universities who focused specifically on technology such as SMS and Social Media.

Speaking on the BBC podcast, Click, information technology professional Juliana Rotich says a comprehensive strategy of offline, mobile and online solutions is required to maximise reach in communities during times of crisis.

“If you’re looking at just an online strategy, then you’re missing a huge chunk of what is needed to be effective,” Rotich says.

In many disaster situations, the kinds of technology available to the community exacerbated inequalities, resulting in people most in need of information and public messages missing out.

Mobile technologist and anthropologist Ken Banks says technology choice and understanding how different cultures use various communication methods is crucial.

“If you’re rolling out a particular kind of technology which requires a certain kind of smart phone or 3G access or maybe it’s in a certain language or dialect that not everyone understands you immediately can create a divide where certain people will be excluded from being able to access those services and that’s generally why SMS and voice are particularly popular because they do work on every phone.”

Technology writer Bill Thompson says disaster preparedness is a challenge because no two disasters and no two communities are the same.  Twenty three years since the first SMS was sent text messaging is one of the most cost-effective and efficient ways to communicate with people en masse.

“It [SMS] is there, it’s everywhere, it’s the base layer of communications on mobile phones.  Every system supports it and it’s never been taken away, you can just rely on it as a minimum level of communication.”

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