Emergency SMS – mobile devices to the rescue

Last updated: 20 March 2014

Most of our followers will have one, if not two or more, mobile devices. Mobile ownership is rising rapidly around the world and, with it, more communications and interaction. From voice calling to data such as email, Facebook and photo-sharing, the mobile device has truly become über-functional.

But there is one traditional function that still rules, even to this day – the humble SMS. And did you know, the SMS recently became of age (21)? That’s right, 21 years ago the first text message – conveniently timed, saying ‘Merry Christmas’ – was sent via the Vodafone network to another phone. Nowadays, a reported eight trillion messages are sent annually, the equivalent of 250,000 every second. (And we all know that this spikes for New Year’s Eve!)

We have previously blogged on the opportunities that SMS offers businesses; this time we’d like to  focus on the specific lifeline that it can throw during times of emergencies. Consider, for instance, the storm currently making its way across Northern Europe (nicknamed #Xaver), affecting Scotland and Northern Germany in particular. Flooding, transport and power disruption, and much more, will need to be communicated to citizens and those who may be affected.

Sure, post it on your website, share it via social media channels. Without connectivity, however, many may not see the updates. This is where the trust SMS and mobile phone (assuming it is charged of course) can reach a far wider population.

The UK government is actually trialing this in Glasgow, Scotland, with around 50,000 cell phone users on three networks, O2, Vodafone and EE, being sent messages to see how easily they can be informed. If successful, it will be rolled out across the wider United Kingdom.

Other regions are already advanced in their use of SMS, including Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, working together with the GSM Association to increase mobile network coverage to these countries that border Lake Victoria. They have strengthened SMS and voice communications to help reduce the number of fishing-related deaths with timely storm warnings.

Another example is in South Africa where SMS is helping ensure that HIV patients receive the treatment they need, using a service called TxtAlert that reminds patients of clinic visits and alert them of their laboratory results.

And there are plenty more, including in Brazil where Vivo Brazil and Gemalto collaborated following torrential rains to make use of the mobile phone as a communication medium to quickly and efficiently provide important information to the population.

So, the next time you dismiss the SMS text message in favor of WhatsApp or a photo shared via Facebook, consider how powerful the SMS is in getting through to many people in very different regions, whether in emergencies or not.