The catastrophic events that have hit Japan are a long way from being over but I think the least we should do is take from the experience of one of the worlds most advanced mobile markets to help us all better prepare for future emergencies. In a bid to help with this I’ve decided to compile a post that can bring together examples of best practice on ways mobile phones and network technologies are and can be used to alleviate suffering and help communities prospects if they are affected by such disasters.
As I think it could become a useful resource this post will be updated as I become aware of other opportunities, if you have any you would like to contribute please post them in the comments below and I will update the list (attributing them to you of course).
Japan and Korea are the global leaders with regard to this eg. in Japan 90% of mobile subscribers use mobile data services (over half of those in their 70’s) and in Korea they have telcos working to train seniors to use mobile phones
But I’ve also seen some great things being done in European markets that prioritise the needs of senior and disabled citizens eg. the brands that make and market devices (eg Doro, Emporia) and smartphone software (eg Ambila)
Japan’s ability to keep voice channels free for emergency services (data only for the rest of the population) was only effective in Japan BECAUSE of government support and commitment to the education of citizens to the benefits of mobile data services.
In regions where mobile data adoption is much lower this causes major problems as the volumes of in/outbound calls quickly jam/overload the networks. Because of this design challenge efforts should be made to educate on the use of SMS/mobile data services. Likewise authorities should be encouraged to develop their capacity in this area eg. by actively supporting Emergency SMS services.
a) Donations: Effective and transparent ways to enable other citizens help financially support victims
a) A live register mobile numbers could be used to identify citizens and property. Obviously this is going to be easier in countries like Estonia (who have electoral voting) but we shouldn’t wait on bureaucrats to get their act together. Clinics should be registering their patients mobile numbers anyway and this would be an additional way this database could help citizens.
b) Educate citizens about the benefits of marking themselves with mobile #’s. In a similar initiative mobile numbers can be used to identify individuals and their next of kin. Citizens could be encouraged to mark themselves with mobile numbers in semipermanent ink eg. a child/patients arm could have their Next of Kin information embedded in an QR code alongside their mobile number and attached to their arm as with a plaster.
c) Identify potential blood donors and their location/health status eg. “Hi Mr Doherty, Blood supplies are in very short supply. Please consider attending AnyWhere Hospital to donate”.
d) Identity Chains: Encourage citizens to list information with their network operator identifying their connections. Network operators offering “mates rate” packages could encourage take up of this where there are citizens who are unconcerned about natural disaster issues. For parents the service could provide authority to share the childs location.
e) Personnel/skills: Identifying who can do what in the event of an emergency could mobilise resources
f) : Enabling the sharing and collation of local paper based records, registers, requests for assistance via a MMS drop box enabling central administrative records to be constructed
g) Text message based replacement of missing persons phone lines
h) Text message based replacement of emergency voicemail message boards
i) SMS based question/answer service enabling citizens to get answers from web based volunteers eg. “What is the number of the US embassy?”
The need for voice is clear but who gets it and when needs to be tightly controlled as capacity is typically going to be limited.
By building broadcast capacity into Voice, SMS and MMS networks will be more capable of delivering individual messages.
Very few regions have public broadcast SMS functionality and the trouble only starts when trying to send SMS to everyone in an area (regardeless of operator). Public license rights should entail that systems are designed to broadcast SMS (and video) content. Likewize mobile devices should be capable of determining and sharing their location and accept broadcast SMS.
Consistent emergency information SMS numbers should also be established for sending emergency notifications to ensure maximal opportunity for the message to be delivered and help prevent issues associated with hoax messages.
b) Emergency SMS
This is already seeing very positive adoption
c) Knowledge Sharing: a great tool was developed by Google, but why not have this on a easy to remember SMS shortcode.
d) Hoax Control
Hoax SMS messages have become widespread even as far away as Singapore highlighting the need for consistent messaging channels from governments even outside the region directly affected. One example would be the “Radioactive Rain from Japan Warnings” that are misleading citizens with false “chain mail style” alarms “If it rains tomorrow or later, don’t go outside. If you are outside, be sure that you have rain protectors. It’s acid rain. Don’t let it touch you. You may burn your skin, lose your hair or have cancer. Please pass, stay safe and remind everyone you know”
a) Identifying where people went missing and where they are reporting they are ok (don’t send your limited search/rescue teams to areas where citizens are reporting no problems).
b) Resource Deployment
Where needed (based on population density/profile in areas and where citizens are reporting needs). This is incredibly important when you appreciate how quickly medical bandages/fluids/blood supplies are going to be depleted in the event of an incident.
c) Monitoring of what’s being done
Search teams should be supported by location based tools eg Mobidarm (Mapping the upMapped)
d) Transit status live updates
e) Shelter/food distribution centre information
a) Educational videos
Similar to the instructional inflight safety videos, here’s the start of what we hope to become a comprehensive list (please add any you can think of in the comments below):
“General Health Advice in light of the new circumstances”, “Why you need to take Iodine”, “how to keep warm”, “Maintaining your hygiene”, “Things to be careful of”, “Guide to living in sheltered accommodation”, “Coping with bereavement”…
“What we’re doing – a message from the Prime Minister”, “What’s happened”, “Updates”, “How you can help”…
b) Central channel for citizens to publish videos for international press
As it becomes clear that even in a country as affluent as Japan medical staff have abandoned hospitalised patients, and that food, water, heating oil and medication supplies to those in sheltered accommodation have been in short supply. Citizen media emanating from these overlooked citizens in sheltered accommodation could offer enormous potential for this as it would apply pressure on governments to reach everyone eg. it would probably be much harder for government officials to state that it felt “helpless and very sorry for them” whilst powerful media from citizens made it out to the worlds press.
All mobile networks should be designed to run on backup power, and there are some key opportunities for telcos to be connectivity/power suppliers in times of shortage:
b) Citizen notification of supply/availability
SMS is a great way of informing citizens of power rotations, water availability, fuel availability, etc which can increase productivity at this time of urgent need eg. instead of waiting in line at fuel stations they can be participating in recovery efforts.
a) Device Manufacturing
b) Device Branding/Personalisation
NTT Docomo: Message board
USSD: Is a functionality of all GSM mobiles that enables phones to be flashed with information yet is faster than SMS and doesn’t weigh down the data or voice channels. Combined with cell broadcasting it can be used to message all mobiles currently linked to a mobile mast. Alternatively it can be used to provide information to citizens by simply requesting them to dial a non-answering number which then initiates a USSD session back to their mobile (these often look like codes and are familiar in markets where there is a lot of use for prepaid devices eg. to check account balance etc).
Zipdial: enables “missed calls” to enable data capture eg. a live register could be created by logging phone calls made to a number
Willcom-Inc Registered SMS Safety Service Guide:
At the time of a disaster outbreak such as earthquakes registering 6- or stronger on the Japanese scale, you may register messages concerning your safety from WILLCOM mobile phones. (except for some models) You may confirm safety registered messages from another mobile operator’s phones, or PCs and you may reply to safety messages.
How to Use
* Registration of a message
You may register messages concerning your safety by selecting a pre-defined comment such as “Safety.” You may write a message up to 100 characters for this option. Registration can be done for up to 10 messages. In case you register messages above this number, the oldest messages will be deleted first. Messages may be stored until the end of a service that was opened during a disaster.
* Deletion of a message
You may delete your registered safety messages.
* Auto Notify
You may send your messages to pre-defined e-mail addresses. In case you register e-mail addresses to be notified of your messages, e-mail notifications may be automatically sent. Up to 10 e-mail addresses may be registered.
You may reply to messages by clicking on the link attached in e-mail notifications. For one message, you can register up to five messages.
Attention in the use
* WILLCOM mobile phone subscribers may register, delete messages, send email notifications.
* When a disaster occurs during the trial service period, we will shift service to disaster mode. In this case, messages registered during the trial service period may be deleted.
* WILLCOM, Inc shall bear no responsibility for malfunctions caused by access obstacles.
* WILLCOM, Inc will take no responsibility for malfunctions incurred due to heavy access traffic to the service or due to equipment failure, damages incurred by failure, damage, etc. of registered messages, regardless of the causes.
* When inappropriate use of the service was confirmed by WILLCOM Inc, There is a case where a message was deleted without prior notice to a registrant until after the fact.