Saturday, September 01, 2007

SMS and Security

Kudos to the UN's World Food Program for using modern technology to get the word out about an assistance program. A staggering 10,000 SMS (Short Message Service) text messages with information about a soon to start food program were sent to cell phones belonging to Iraqi refugees in Syria.

Text messaging is a great for getting the word out quickly and efficiently that's often underutilized by humanitarian organizations. Even in places where the cellular phone infrastructure has been overloaded or damaged, it's been my experience that you can often send and receive text messages when you can't make regular phone calls.

If you're working in an area with decent mobile phone coverage, think about adding text messaging to your security-related communication plans (phone trees, notification and alert systems, backup communications, etc.).

Here are a few suggestions if you decide to use text messaging:

- Understand how text messages can be sent (directly from a phone, via email, or through a Web site). These methods will vary from one mobile service provider to the next, and it's good to know the strengths and weaknesses of each method.

- Know the system limitations of how many characters can be included in a message, so messages don't get chopped off. You can always send multiple messages, if need be. Be terse and convey the information you need to.

- Every month, send a regularly scheduled test message, just so you know the system works. If someone doesn't get the message, he or she should let you know so you can try to figure out why.

- If the situation warrants it, consider using codewords in your messages to identify locations, people or responses (just make sure all staff know what they mean). Remember, text messages can easily be intercepted and viewed by government entities.

- While it may be tempting, don't put all of your eggs in the SMS basket. A good communications plan will have backup layers in case a system becomes unavailable. Always have a plan B.

Any other hints, tips or experiences, feel free to post a comment.



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