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.
What do I need to know?
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.
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.
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