Mobile Technology has served as a very important tool for saving lives in major disasters. Mobile phones and SMS have served this purpose in many countries that have suffered devastating disasters such as Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and Mexico and recently the Philippines. While the use of SMS as a cheap and effective communication channel during disasters can be hugely beneficial; it can also have negative unintended consequences, if not planned properly. For this reason, the GSMA (Global System for Mobile Communications Association) together with other Agencies and experts have documented a set of guidelines that codify the best practices for using SMS in the rescue process in the aftermath of a disaster. The main purpose of the guidelines is to get the humanitarian community and Mobile Network Operators coordinate better in the event of a major disaster. Nonetheless, the guidelines can also be useful when deploying SMS services in general.
A SYSTEMS THINKING APPROACH
When deploying an SMS service, there is the need for a systems thinking approach. This proposes a view of the service in a holistic manner. Service Providers should avoid the temptation of getting over-excited about their technology. Instead of thinking about the SMS service in isolation, there is the need to consider the entire ecosystem and how the various components interrelate. Things to consider include: the level of literacy of users, familiarity with technology, information and privacy concerns, Mobile Network Operators and Laws governing the use of such services in the area of operations. It is also important to consider how users will find it easy and simple to use your service.
TECHNOLOGY IS JUST 10%
The Ushahidi team understood this concept very well. From the onset they realized that the success of their service lied beyond just the installation of the Ushahidi software. Majority of the work was done by: proper planning, proper coordination with partners; getting the right resources; training, effective flow of information and many other activities that are not directly related to the technology. The Technology is not an end in itself. SMS providers must understand that whatever problem it is that they are trying to solve cannot be done entirely by the technology itself.
In conclusion, this document is to aid the humanitarian ecosystem and the mobile ecosystem better understanding of how to coordinate resources for disaster response. SMS App Developers, can also learn a thing or two on how to successfully deploy an SMS platform.