Could SMS be used effectively to send alerts about impending disasters and coordinate disaster relief after the fact? Some of our allies behind the SEA-EAT/ Earthquake and Tsunami Blog thought so, especially given the effective use of SMS in the region by people like Morquendi. A system's already being built – you can see incoming messages here.
For testing purposes, they're asking people to send messages to +44 7890 716 820. "While testing, it would be great if they could mention which cell phone service they are using. People sending messages from Sri Lanka will have their messages posted directly. People posting from other countries will have to prefix the message with ARC." [Link to post at SEA-EAT Blog] | [Link to more information about ARC]
For that matter, why not notification via RSS as well?
Wow--really different organizing approach from the city-sponsored services we've been hearing about here in the States, per Municipal Emergency Textmobbing:
Eager to see how this pans out...
I like the idea of a SMS alert system but am unsure if it is capable of performing the role of alert system.
As each disaster occurs in recent times the role of SMS as a resuce tool has been increasing. SMS's role as an alert system has not been applied yet during those times of emergency. One has to wonder if SMS is a viable option as means to alert people or other systems. It is my understanding that cell phones do not authenticate SMS messages. Making it very easy for someone with the will and know-how to fake a SMS message.
I will let you draw your own conclusions to what a fraud SMS message could do if broadcasted to 1000's of people at the same time. This un-authenticated method of sending SMS is also known as SMS-Spam. So, I guess if SMS protocol could be improved to authenticate it may make for a good alert system.
I wouldn't consider any system viable that was vulnerable to deceptive practices or spamming. Such a system needs safeguards as #1 priority. Don't post an article without it.
Don't forget, too, that the GSM standards do not guarantee the timely delivery (or even just the delivery!) of SMS messages. If network elements become congested (and they're most likely to become congested in emergencies!) they almost certainly will drop SMS messages, or at the least delay their delivery. I'm sure we've all experienced receiving SMSs several _days_ after the sender sent them!
Yes, they're a useful transport, but be sure you have parallel alerting mechanisms in place.
Frank's absolutely right. Even in non-emergency times, I've found SMS reliability to sporadic at best. That said, this doesn't mean that SMS shouldn't be used -- it just means that it should be part of a multiply-redundant, belt-and-suspenders-and-glue system.
It is a great idea and your correspondants have already highlighted some of the enhancement requests (such as spam filtering) that you will encounter. I would like to offer you, at no cost, a software product that will also satisfy requirements such as:
1) Support for incoming/outgoing email.
2) Automatic alerts sent to interested parties, triggered by specific events.
3) Full text search of messages
4) Ability to post images, files, etc
5) Support for seperate tables to handle entries by relief agencies, government agencies, suppliers, aid workers on the ground, etc.
6) Group calendar and calendar entries tied to specific records (such as arrival of supplies at a disaster area)
7) Workflow to coordinate the activities of multiple agencies/individuals.
8) Automatic backup of data and export/import capability accross systems.
9) Database, LDAP integration
10) Admininstrative interface with record and field level access permissions.
11) Rapid installation/upgrade program
12) Support for teams and team assignments of tasks.
In brief, all the things that go into coordinating and acting on the SMS messages.
It has taken us 1.5 million lines of server side code and ~140 man years to develop this product. You could be ready for full production use in a month or so. There is one caveat:
This is commercial software, not open source, it is free for use by qualified non-profit organizations, charities and open-source companies. Charitable disaster relief organizations certainly qualify and source code access is provided. However, if you wanted to sell the package to other organizations, you would have to pay my company a royalty on such sales.