Using SMS in an emergency

19 August 2014

Whilst SMS services are a great way of pushing marketing messages, it’s also a direct way to opening communication to the public in emergency and life threatening situations.

Below we have explored just some of the scenarios where text messages have been used as a communication tool to access people providing and receiving aid.

Transport Updates

During the St Jude’s storm in October 2013 we saw the UK shut down for transport where National Rail services were “delayed or cancelled, with some Train Operators running amended timetables with many train operators not running a service before 9am.” and Transport for London said it would not be running any trains on its over ground service before 9am.

TFL (Transport for London) are just one example of how SMS can be used for transport updates particularly during situations of disaster or severe weather.


Text messages are already being used in emergencies – and this has been adopted by the UK emergency services. EmergencySMS is an organisation  that “lets deaf, hard of hearing and speech-impaired people in the UK send an SMS text message to the UK 999 service where it will be passed to the police, ambulance, fire rescue, or coastguard.”

Natural disasters

Unfortunately, natural disasters do happen and sometimes this happens with little or no warning. In circumstances such as these, it’s even more important to effectively communicate with the people affected and the aid that is needed. For example, during and since the 2010 Haiti earthquake “the use of SMS can provide timely information to disaster affected communities while also being used to rapidly  collect information from these communities to improve aid delivery and accountability” [source: GSMA]

Crisis support

During the 11th September terrorist attacks calls increased 78% from the previous year and recent trends are showing the demand for text message based support services are reaching record levels.

A report done in the UK (Digital Education Resource Archive) shows that people needing aid in remote or difficult to access areas are using SMS to get help and receive aid. For example “A Canadian woman trapped under rubble after the recent earthquake in Haiti managed to send out a text message to the Foreign Affairs Department in Ottawa, a place nearly 3,000 miles away. And it saved her life”

News Reports

The same report shows how the use of SMS and radio transmissions has historically been used to provide key emergency communication. For example, the earthquake in Indonesia in May 2006 sadly killed more than 5,000 people and displaced 1.6 million; however the use of radio and SMS helped provide news about relief efforts

For more information on how you can use SMS as a tool for communications during a crisis, or to simply keep your clients informed of service updates, statuses or anything else, please call our Customer Service team on 08451 221 302.

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