SMS Code of Conduct for Disaster Response MWC 2013v2


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  • Good Evening,My name is Patrick Meier, I direct the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute’s program on next-generation humanitarian technologies. We apply advanced computing methods such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to make sense of Big Data during disasters to support humanitarian response.I’ve been asked by Kyla Reid to reflect on the origins of a project that she, myself, JakobKorenblumand I have been working on over the past year; namely a code of conduct for the use of SMS in disaster response. This story actually begins on January 12, 2010, when a devastating earthquake struck Port-au-Prince. I spearheaded a live crisis mapping project at the time, which you can see depicted here. The information posted on the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map was drawn from hundreds of different sources, one of which was SMS.
  • Now there’s a lot going on on this slide so let me walk you through it starting with Josh Nesbit on the top left. Less than 24hours after the earthquake, m colleague Josh posted this tweet, looking for an SMS solution to support our crisis mapping efforts. Someone following him on Twitter (from Cameroon no less) saw Josh’s tweet and put him in touch with a contact of his at Digicel Haiti. Josh then worked with Digicel and a number of other organizations to set up a free SMS short code (4636) which was integrated with the Ushahidi-Haiti Crisis Map. In the meantime, Robert Munro, a graduate student in California, began to recruit hundreds of Creole-speaking volunteers to translate incoming text messages into English. Several days later, colleagues from Reuters disseminated information about the the 4636 short code and the crisis map via local community radio stations. We received about 10,000 text messages during the first two weeks (ie, during the Search and Rescue phase). But we only mapped about 10% of these since we triaged and prioritized the most urgent and actionable messages. Before publishing these messages on the map, however, we had to address a very critical issue: data privacy and protection. There’s an important trade-off here: the more open the data, the more actionable that information is likely to be for professional disaster responders, local communities and the Diaspora.Time was not a luxury we had; a week had already passed since the earthquake which meant that literally every hour counted for potential survivors still trapped under the rubble. So we quickly reached out to 2 trusted lawyers in Boston, one of them a highly reputable Law Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy who is also be a specialist on Haiti.Moving to the right half of this slide, you see the written replies we received from both lawyers, who each determined that consent was implied vis-à-vis the publishing of text messges. We shared this information with all team members and partners working with us. We then made a joint decision 24 hours later to move ahead and publish the content of the messages in full. This decision was also supported by humanitarian colleagues at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative who maintained that the risks of making this information public were minimal from the Do No Harm perspective. Robert also gave his thumbs up by email on January 19th. My colleagues from Ushahidi thus launched a public micro-tasking platform to crowdsource the translation efforts and hosted this on [the link is no longer live]. This project was evaluated over a year later by independent and seasoned experts from Tulane University. The results were mixed. While the US Marine Corps publicly proclaimed to have saved hundreds of lives thanks to the crisis map, it was very hard for the evaluators to corroborate this information during their short field visit to Port-au-Prince over a year later.
  • In any event, it was clear from this volunteereffort that an SMS Code of Conduct for Disaster Response was urgently needed. I actually blogged about this on my iRevolution blog just weeks after the earthquake and subsequently co-authored a peer-reviewed study on lessons learned.Now both this blog post and subsequent publication would have sunk to the depths never to be seen again had Kyla Reid not decided to turn my pleas into an official policy strategy for GSMA. So Kyla, Jacob and myself spent a considerable amount of time drafting and redrafting a detailed set of principles for the use of SMS in disaster response. We benefited tremendously from the real experts in this space, both onthetelco side and the humanitarian side, many of whom you’ll hear from today. I should also note that there have been a number of parallel efforts that we have also greatly benefited from. Ours doesn’t seek to duplicate these important efforts but rather serves to inform the GSMA community about the use of SMS during disaster response. It is important for both telcos and humanitarian organizations to be pro-active and forward thinking about these issues. I for one do not ever want to ever again spend 24 hours to determine whether or not text messages can or cannot be mapped. 24 hours during a search and rescue phase absolutely makes the difference between life and death. In closing, and to bring it back to my current work on next-generation humanitarian technologies, Digicel had given us the option of sending out an SMS broadcast to their 2 million subscribers to get the word out about 4636. But given that we were processing incoming SMS’s manually, there was no way we’d be able to handle the increased volume and velocity of incoming text messages. At the Qatar Computing Research Institute, my team and I are using advanced computing solutions to automatically parse and triage large volumes of text messages during disasters. Please talk to me after the panel if you’d like to learn more.Thank you very much
  • SMS Code of Conduct for Disaster Response MWC 2013v2

    1. 1. 1:38 PM Jan 13th via web “[…] It seems quite clear to me that if you are able to obtain their numbers and “Thanks Patrick! they are sending you thisRobert Munro That’s reassuring! information, consent is I can go with whatever implied.” – Jan 18, 4.45pm EDTMission 4636 was decided […].” – Jan 19, 3.14pm EDT “If people are texting you, with the intent of getting aid or reaching out to someone, then consent would be implied.” – Jan 18, 5.47pm EDT