Within weeks of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, I published this blog post entitled “How to Royally Mess Up Disaster Response in Haiti.” A month later, I published another post on “Haiti and the Tyranny of Technology.” I also called for an SMS Code of Conduct as described here. Some of the needs and shortcomings expressed in these blog posts have finally been answered by InfoAsAid‘s excellent Message Library, “an online searchable database of messages that acts as a reference for those wanting to disseminate critical information to affected populations in an emergency.”
“If used in the correct way, the library should help improve communication with crisis-affected populations.” As my colleague Anahi Ayala explains with respect to the disaster response in Haiti,
“One of the main problem that emerged was not only the need to communicate but the need for a coordinated and homogeneous message to be delivered to the affected communities. The problem was posed by the fact that as agencies and organizations were growing in number and size, all of them were trying in different ways to deliver messages to the beneficiaries of aid, with the result of many messages, sometimes contradicting each other, delivered to many people, sometimes not the right receiver for that message.”
This platform can be used for both disaster response and preparedness. In the latter case, preparedness exercises can “Involve communities to identify threats and draft appropriate messages using the message library as a reference.” Organizations can also “Pre-test the messages with different segments of society (consider differences in gender, rural/urban, education levels, age) to ensure comprehension.” In terms of disaster response, the platform can be used to disseminate information on the “scale, nature and impact of the disaster (humanitarian news); Alerts about secondary disasters such as aftershocks, landslides or flooding; Messages about how to stay safe and mitigate risk in the face of anticipated threats.”
At PeaceTXT, we’re taking a very similar approach to SMS messaging. In our case, we are developing an SMS Library specifically for the purposes of changing recipients’ behaviors and perceptions vis-a-vis peace and conflict issues in Kenya. This shift towards a culture of preparedness is really important, both for disaster response and conflict prevention. We are currently organizing a series of focus groups with local communities to develop the content of our SMS Library. We plan to review this content in August for inclusion in the library. I very much look forward to scheduling a conference call between InfoAsAid and PeaceTXT in the coming months to share lessons learned thus far in the development of our respective message libraries.
For more on InfoAsAid’s absolutely critical resource, this short video provides a very good summary, including how sensitive messages are managed and how you can contribute SMS content to this very important service. Some serious thanks and praise are in order for InfoAsAid’s work. I do hope that the team at InfoAsAid will join us at the International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012) to share the latest on their excellent initiatives.