Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TO Tornado:: SMS & Alerting for Disaster

Last Thursday, I was a few thousand kilometers away, but I knew all about the storm brewing in Toronto through old {telephone} and new technologies {Twitter}. A CBC director wanted to know if she should risk walking from the subway on Twitter. Upon hearing from LQ on the ominousness in Summerhill, I looked up the satellite map and Tweeted a response to stay put. I was too late::
"Home. Soaked to the skin. That was a pretty scary walk/swim home. #Toronto #TOstorm" @rachelnixon
Only today did I realize the damage up in Vaughan and how the tornado claimed a life. I saw a CBC article urging improvements to an early warning system. The discussion in the article focused on radio to get the word out of weather warnings from Environment Canada, but this made me think of social media brainstorming I've been working on in non-profit health, particularly with the use of texting. For example, using texting to warn "subscribers" about a high UV index in order to lower sun exposure and skin cancer risk. A recent Pew Internet report found that 85% of adults in the US had a cellphone and over half {52%} used it for ancillary activities such as texting, e-mailing, and snapping a digital photo. This made me think of using SMS {texting}, in addition to broadcast means like radio. In the past, I've seen severe weather warnings on Twitter on the #Toronto hashtag, but a "server push" alert via SMS can be tailored geographically and automated at a relatively low cost.

In downtown Toronto, I have decent reception via Rogers, but I tried to find out what the reception was like via crowdsourced maps for the outlying areas of the GTA. Signalmap {beta} doesn't have that much data, so I couldn't get a good sense of reception::

While Canadian penetration of cellphones is the lowest of all OECD nations at 62 phones per 100 Canadians {72% of Canadians have access to a cell phone according to a Harris-Decima poll}, compared to about 100 per 100 residents in the developed world, it still makes cost-effective sense to use SMS for regional emergency alerts at no charge to the user, in addition to traditional media.

Twitterversion:: Tornado in #Toronto spurs #CBC discuss. of early warning sys.Despite cellphone,#SMS should be considered. @Prof_K

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