Mobile Technology

Mobile phones are increasingly accessible to those affected by crisis and can play a strategic role in the delivery of rapid, cost-effective, scalable humanitarian assistance. In this context, mobile phones can be used as tools for conducting needs assessments, facilitating rapid mass communication, and improving transparency through feedback and complaints mechanisms.

Mobile technologies are transforming the ways people seek, receive and share information. Whether they are using the latest smart phone or a more basic feature device, mobiles can connect people in ways that were unimaginable only a few years ago.

There is a growing list of uses for these devices as innovative apps populate extend the way people use their phones. From mobile banking to surveillance tools, mobiles are changing the way that disaster practitioners approach their work.

However, the full potential of mobile phones to work as transformative tools in emergency response has not yet been realised. To realise the potential of mobile phones in emergency response, three strategic issues must be addressed:

Increase accountability: Ensuring accountability to beneficiaries is an ongoing challenge in emergency response environments, because it is costly and time consuming to facilitate two-way communications. The most vulnerable are often excluded and there is the risk that increased use of mobile technology could exacerbate this trend. However, when used effectively, there are powerful ways in which the use of mobile phones can facilitate the flow of information and empower new voices, including the most marginalised, to participate and inform the humanitarian response.

Build preparedness: There is a widespread lack of awareness regarding how mobile phones can be used in emergency response. The main reasons for this are a lack of training for humanitarian staff, a lack of preparedness and the limited opportunity to innovate in the high-pressure environment of an unfolding emergency. There is significant opportunity for coordinated training, building organisational capacity and equipping staff in advance of an emergency so that they are confident and competent to realise the benefits of mobile technology.

Prioritise collaboration: The use of mobiles in emergency response is hampered by a lack of collaboration and knowledge-sharing between humanitarian agencies, MNOs and governments.

There has been a lack of understanding regarding the strengths that each sector offers, leading to a lack of coordination and ineffective responses. Realising the potential of mobile phones in emergencies is dependent upon determined collaboration between all stakeholders, investing time and resources in building partnership and shared understanding before an emergency. This enables efficient and coordinated responses that utilise the strengths of each sector and facilitate integrated solutions.

It is also important to consider that the decreasing costs off smart phone devices and the increasing availability of interesting and useful apps has created a massive adoption trend worldwide. Even in countries that have been slow to adopt computers and other high tech devices, smart phones are proving to be popular for purchase because of their broad application and practical assets.

[Source: Save the Children, Mobile Technology in Emergencies, 2012]

SMS – Short messaging service is a text based communication tool used on mobile devices.

Mobile Apps – software designed to work on mobile phones. Mobile apps may or may not require a data connection once they have been installed on a device.

Mobile web – Users of smart devices access a mobile version of websites. Oftern a trimmed down set of content, mobile web requires a data signal or wifi connection.

Mobile Banking – banking transactions enabled for mobile devices.

Mobile Technology Use in Humanitarian Organizations:

To better serve the needs of people affected by disasters, humanitarian organizations must be able to make use of new technologies, having the mobile nature of operations, there is an increasing need to enable humanitarian staff with tools and information that they can access on-the-go. In addition, staff and volunteers need to be equipped with tools to access real-time information on disasters, even before they hit.

Moreover, Mobile technology can become a core tool in effective emergency response, and address some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges, by providing instant communications and fundraising support over our networks.

Mobile technology could be used before, during and after the disaster strike, since it provides an early warning system, aids in emergency coordination, and improves public communications. Fortunately solutions needless to be complicated; simple text services can have a huge impact in sharing information and re-connecting families.

Mobile Technology for Disaster Preparedness:

The mobile uses for disaster preparedness range from the common uses of raising public awareness and reaching to vulnerable population about disaster risks and preparedness or dissemination early warnings of impending danger to developing community-specific and country-specific parameters in designing and implementing mobile-enabled awareness and preparedness programs or engaging in protective behaviors such as obtaining information about location and availability of preparedness services.

Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) Mobile Apps:

As the Global Disaster Preparedness Center (GDPC) is promoting creative uses of technology and innovative approaches in disaster preparedness programs. The GDPC has created a platform to facilitate the adaptation and localization of mobile applications, through the Universal App Program, which provides first aid and hazard information for use in countries across the globe.

Besides the First Aid App and the Hazard App there is also a disaster preparedness educational mobile game designed for kids and families called Tanah. Tanah is the Tsunami and Earthquake Fighter game that offers hazard awareness for youths and help them learning key concepts of disaster risk reduction.

The GDPC in collaboration with SIMLab, conducted a workshop on Feature Phones to explore extending the project to reach portions of the population who have not yet gained access to smartphone technology, and considering ways to get the First Aid app or its content onto feature phones. You can find more information about the workshop here.

Mobile Data Collection:

At this time many RC/RC National Societies, ICRC and IFRC are widely using mobile devices to collect data on a global scale. Many projects have successfully reduced the costs of data collection by a factor of ten and the time to gather and analyze data from up to twelve months to less than two weeks!

There are number of tools used by National Societies for data collection such as:

ODK – Open Data Kit: An open-source suite of tools that helps organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions. The goal is to make open-source and standards-based tools which are easy to try, easy to use, easy to modify and easy to scale.

Magpi – An easy to use data collection application for field data collection needs. The new version includes advanced features such as the Text to Speech functionality, sub-form integrations, automatic device synchronization, as well as scheduled broadcast messages. The application works on various mobile platforms, and data collection with SMS and web-based entry can be integrated

UReport – A free opt-in, SMS-based system where individuals communicate experience and interest and receive information and access to a web-based dashboard of aggregated data and analysis.

– MPharma – A mobile app for managing pharmaceutical prescriptions and consumption in developing countries and is helping to create an end-to-end health information system. MPharma can adapted.

[Sources: [1]: GSMA 2015 report , The Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Principled Approach to Innovation ]