Mobile Devices and Disaster Response Communication

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SEATTLE — Access to mobile methods of communication is increasing, and this is having huge implications for global disaster response. Populations in developing countries can experience increased effective support following disasters, preparedness and collaboration with external resources and a means of communicating within communities — all through mobile devices.

For a developing country that does not have a strong infrastructure or access to a surplus of financial resources, a natural disaster can be destabilizing. The loss of homes, food, family and jobs is complicated by an inability to obtain aid and information quickly following the calamity.

According to the Brooking Institute, mobile development has grown parallel with an increase in popular demand for on-demand, accurate information. Researchers Darrell M. West and Elizabeth Valentini explore how mobile devices can serve as early warning signals of impending natural disasters, as well as aid in emergency response and communication post-disaster.

“As people increasingly rely on mobile phones and the Internet as their main source of information and communication, the government and private sector must work together to ensure that systems respond effectively to natural disasters and have the bandwidth to maintain operability during times of massive volume increases,” according to West and Valentini.

Here are a few of the ways mobile devices are being utilized in disaster response communication:

  1. Building networks
    The World Bank has gathered some encouraging statistics on global growth. In January, the organization forecasted that global economic growth would strengthen to 2.7 percent by the year 2017, with an acceleration in emerging markets and developing economies.

    Networks are distributed across land through cells or base stations. The greater a number of stations, the better the network coverage and the better the cellular connection. By increasing the number of base stations in developing countries, communities can receive stronger network connections to access information and communicate with mobile devices.

  2. Communication from government
    The University of Central Asia and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched Kyrgyzstan Spatial in April 2015. This online interactive tool allows policy makers to make decisions in agriculture and food security, but it can also be used by a government to construct a disaster response communication and relief plan following a natural disaster.
  3. Communication between users
    The retail giant Amazon is developing a smartphone named Ice, which is constructed as a low-cost model for emerging markets. Powered by Google Android, the device could prove to be an accessible, affordable tool for people in developing countries.With a larger percentage of the population owning a smartphone, their ability to be warned about and respond to natural disasters increases.
  4. Improved speed of response
    According to the Aid & International Development Forum, science and technology have the potential to be the innovations needed to address global humanitarian needs. This includes disaster response communication in developing countries. Mobile devices can be used by both locals and responders during natural disasters, alleviating the full impact of the event by connecting those affected with resources and aid.

Smartphones will account for two-thirds of mobile connections across the world by 2020, according to GSMA Intelligence. A significant portion of these smartphone users will be people living in developing countries.

GSMA has reported that, “In the hands of consumers, these devices are improving living standards and changing lives, especially in developing markets, while contributing to growing economies by stimulating entrepreneurship.”

D-Tree International is an organization that works to utilize mobile software to address knowledge gaps globally. One of its initiatives is the Emergency Referral System, through which digital technology is used to provide existing community resources in places where ambulance services are not available.

This is achieved through a database of drivers, routes and prices, a triaging protocol to determine the degree of emergency, mobile money integration that pays for the driver’s labor and a call center where emergency calls are directed.

While the emergency system is integrated into a larger maternal health program, the process can be implemented into a variety of contexts including an emergency response in the aftermath of natural disasters. This occurs with disaster response communication through mobile devices on the ground by both government and private citizens.

Hannah Pickering

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Hannah Pickering

Hannah lives on the outskirts of Seattle, WA, at the foothills of Snoqualmie Pass. Her academic interests include Journalism and she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. When not writing for The Borgen Project, Hannah is a contributor to Citizen Weekly (an online news outlet with a global focus), a reporter for The Daily at the University of Washington and an avid reader who loves to debate ideas and facts.

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