Emergencies

15 posts categorized

September 30, 2014

SMS: Crime Fighter

Depositphotos_45709945_xs

Text messaging as a mobile marketing tool is standard practice across most industries, but the public sector is also harnessing the power of SMS. Healthcare, emergency services, schools - all are benefitting from the possibilities opened up by the speed, affordability and convenience of mass texting.

One of the most significant applications of text messaging is in the fight against crime. Earlier this year, the four major wireless carriers began offering free text-to-911 services. Police departments across the country are realizing what mobile marketing campaign managers have long understood: there’s no greater guarantee of effective communication than SMS. Victims of crime can surreptitiously send text messages in dangerous situations where making a phone call may be impossible, and law enforcers can use SMS to streamline their processes and thus become more effective. Let’s take a look at some of the most innovative uses of SMS messaging in the fight against crime.

Tip Offs

A number of local police departments have set up shortcodes allowing members of the public to anonymously tip the police about a crime they have witnessed. In Bakersfield, CA, citizens have been providing law enforcers with valuable tips for some years; Kern County runs a similar program. In both cases, police stress that these channels are not intended for emergency situations requiring immediate attention, but for anonymous tip offs from people who may not otherwise feel comfortable reporting crime.

Campus Crime

In Tennessee, local authorities are encouraging students to report crimes anonymously. When the scheme was rolled out in 2009, Sgt. Charles Warner from the Franklin Police Department said that young people “don’t want to be labeled as ‘snitches’... they don’t want to be retaliated against and they’re fearful of that.” But many young people are happy to report, say, a student who brings a gun to school, or is dealing drugs on campus. The first police department in the state to launch a text message tip program, other precincts soon followed suit, and similar programs are now widespread all over the United States.

Human Trafficking

Based in Washington, D.C., the Polaris Project runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which accepts calls and texts 24/7. A Washington Post story recounted the plight of one 18-year-old sex-trade worker who alerted the authorities via text message from her pimp’s phone. Police arrested the man shortly after. An app called Redlight Traffic goes further still, with an educational component designed to teach citizens how to identify tell-tale signs of human trafficking and give them a way to combat it.

Law enforcers believe such programs can improve public understanding of potentially criminal situations, even when no actual crime has been witnessed. Citizens can report suspicious behaviour to the app, upload photos and GPS locations, and provide information on vehicle registrations and personal descriptions. Officers can review individual reports and map suspicious activities to improve their chances of being there when a crime is committed. It’s an ideal solution for members of the public who are unsure whether to call 911, but believe they have witnessed potential wrongdoing.

Misdemeanors

It’s not just serious offences like trafficking and gun crime that are being tackled by SMS messaging. Minor misdeeds which clog up law enforcement processes can be prevented by improved communication between the police and the public. In Moscow, drivers can sign up to receive a text alert 20 minutes before their car is about to be towed. When the program launched in June, officials predicted monthly savings of up to $2.6 million.

August 19, 2014

SMS is Helping Scotland Improve Public Health

Depositphotos_10911243_xs

In the last couple of years, the government of Scotland has commenced with several widespread mobile marketing campaigns to enhance public awareness, especially regarding health. Working directly with SMS-based marketing corporations, the government has rolled out some advertising campaigns to raise awareness about quitting smoking, children’s safety, and breast cancer. The common thread among all of these campaigns is a widespread connection with the public, as well as a series of calls-to-action. The Scottish citizenry have responded, and these campaigns are being lauded as great successes.

First, the government of Scotland provides a texting service for quitters – those who want to quit smoking, that is. The service is simple: mobile users may send a text to a specific number, including the exact date they wish to give up smoking. Daily, an automatic reply calculates the number of days that are left until they quit. It also provides them with daily incentives and tips to quit through an app called the “quit calendar.” The application and the text-based program are beginning to show some terrific results.

Second, the Scottish government has worked in tandem with a company called Incentivated alongside the Scottish Children’s Panel to provide a service regarding public hearings. With just a simple text, adults can sign up for hearings regarding child safety within the home. The service automatically calls mobile users back with information about child safety, and provides them with the ability to secure a seat at the hearing they wish to attend. In the first month, this service received over 1500 responses from the Scottish public.

Finally, in the latest example of SMS marketing for the Scottish government, the company Incentivated provided a way for women to locate the nearest breast screening center. The ad gives a simple code and a call-to-action, and has been included with government advertisements in print and online. When a mobile user texts in, they receive a reply with a local telephone number of the nearest center, and it urges them to make an appointment if they haven’t had a screening in the last three years.

All in all, mobile technology for the common good is easy-to-use and gaining traction not just in Scotland, but around the world. These campaigns target the public right where they live, providing simple services with the push of a few buttons. Opting in via SMS allows mobile users to decide which services exactly they want to be notified of, thus providing users with practical, real-time information they find useful. Expect to see more of these types of mobile marketing campaigns in the near future.

July 31, 2014

Beyond Marketing: 4 Unexpected Uses for SMS

Depositphotos_9759045_xs

SMS messaging has become a key component of any mobile marketing strategy. It’s use as an advertising tool has been well documented – not least on this very organ – but there are all sorts of weird, wonderful ways to leverage the power of text. Schools, community groups, churches and even emergency services have begun incorporating SMS into their processes. We’ve cherry picked our favorite unusual uses of SMS messaging outside of the mobile marketing realm…

Finding Lost Pets

Companies like MobiPet are helping pet owners locate lost furry friends. When notified of a lost animal, they send photo alerts by text message to registered vets, animal shelters and pet owners within a 30 mile radius. Animal lovers have rallied round the idea which, unlike microchip implants, is non-invasive and requires no equipment apart from a camera-enabled mobile phone with text message capability.

Donating to Good Causes

Text-to-donate has proven highly effective at engaging people who don’t donate to charity by other methods. In 2007, a Super Bowl commercial raised $10,000 within seconds for the victims of the recent tsunami in Asia. The Haiti earthquake relief effort also benefitted from a text campaign, with the Red Cross eventually pulling in $32 million for victims. The success of text-to-donate is owed to the simplicity of the process. People too busy to go through the hassle of visiting a website and uploading credit card information can simply reply to a text message and have their donation applied to their phone bill.

Emergency Alerts

Closer to home, Hurricane Sandy – the second costliest hurricane in the US since records began – had a devastating impact on local businesses, but SMS proved to be a true survivor in the face of infrastructural collapse. Businesses and emergency services used SMS to keep residents up to date on the weather and how the damage it caused would affect them. 

Talking to Home Appliances

‘Smart appliances’ allow their owners to control them remotely via text message. Appliances are programmed to respond to a series of commands, so if you have an unexpected guest coming to your house, and you don’t have time to go home and clean, you can send a text to your robotic vacuum cleaner or mop. Intelligent SMS systems are also being used in fridges to tell owners what they need to pick up from the store, and even suggest recipe ideas!

June 30, 2014

How SMS is Revolutionizing Emerging Economies

Depositphotos_13437574_xs

Since 2007, individual farmers in developing countries are estimated to have made up to $4000 in additional profits and saved twice as much – and it’s all thanks to SMS messaging.

First trialed in India, and now being rolled out in other emerging economies, Reuters Market Light (RML) has had a truly revolutionary impact on the lives of rural workers since being introduced. This noble scheme was designed to level the playing field for remote farmers operating in a globalized marketplace. The service acts as a watchdog-cum-information-hub for agricultural commerce, issuing crucial information to people who may not have internet access.

It’s a far cry from the sophisticated mobile marketing tactics employed in the western world, but RML has demonstrated just how powerful SMS messaging can be in the absence of smartphones and web connectivity. Thus far, millions of farmers all over the world have received vital updates throughout the season, with information tailored to the specific needs of an individual’s profile. Information like regional and global market rates for crops; local weather data and disaster alerts; advice on increasing productivity and reducing risk, and other information that could have an impact on operational costs.

The scheme is intended to safeguard vulnerable workers against exploitative middlemen who seek to undercut them. There’s no shortage of compelling testimony to the efficacy of the work being done by RML. One story tells of a grape farmer who began exporting produce to Russia after learning of the country’s higher prices. It’s estimated that a staggering 1.2 million farmers in India are using the program to improve their chances.

RML offers a moving demonstration of how the humble mobile phone can help some of the world’s poorest people without the bells and whistles of the smartphones which proliferate among the world’s richest. SMS messaging, it seems, is powerful enough to raise living standards and brings some semblance of equality to a globalized economy. Kenya has used SMS messaging payment programs to reduce robbery statistics, with an amazing 25% of the country’s GDP now flowing through the M-Pesa system.

Studies indicate that introducing ten cell phones per one hundred people in the developing world can boost economic growth by 1%. RML, M-Pesa, and others are truly improving the lot of some of the hardest-hit regions on earth, giving citizens cheaper services, better access to crucial economic data, and ultimately creating greater expectations about acceptable living standards.

 

May 26, 2014

The Skinny on 911 Texting

Depositphotos_25591157_xs
 

Since May 15, the four major U.S. wireless carriers have been voluntarily offering text-to-911 capability as an alternative to placing voice calls to the emergency service. However, the fact that carriers have made the service available does not necessarily mean that 911 text messages will get through to dispatchers in all areas of the country.

There are several important things the public needs to know about how the new text-to-911 system works, as well as where it works and when it should and should not be used:

Which Wireless Carriers Support Text-to-911?

According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T support text-to-911 in areas where dispatchers are equipped to receive such messages. These four companies represent the largest wireless carriers in the United States.

How does Text-to-911 Work?

Those needing to use the text-to-911 feature should type 911 into the number field. In the body of the text, they must state what and where the emergency is before hitting “send.”

The National Emergency Number Association has explained that call centers equipped to receive these emergency messages will be able to field the texts in a number of ways. For instance, centers that have not yet upgraded to the latest 911 technology will be able to start by receiving text messages via the TTY service previously reserved only for the hearing impaired. Those centers that can upgrade their systems, on the other hand, will be able to field the text messages through a browser-based technology that connects a secure virtual network to the text provider.

The public needs to be aware that the 911 dispatchers that are set up to receive texts cannot unfortunately accept photos or video at this time.

Where Does Text-to-911 Work? Where Does it Not Work?

It's crucial for the public to know that text-to-911 has not yet been implemented in every community. While the next six months will likely see many more communities adopting the technology, it could easily take several more years before implementation is widespread.

According to the FCC, people who try texting a message to 911 via Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, or AT&T in an area where it is not yet supported should receive a "bounce back" text informing them that their message could not be sent.

Circumventing Potential Problems

Like all text messages, texts to 911 are, unfortunately, subject to possible delays. In addition, since mobile phones are not associated with specific, fixed locations, it's crucial that texters remember to report what the location of the emergency is so that responders may promptly find those needing help. Overall, while text-to-911 could save lives in situations where placing a voice call is dangerous or even impossible, it is being stressed that when contacting 911, people's first choice should always be to call, with texting as an option only when calling is not possible or safe.

May 09, 2014

Emergency Text Message Alerts Come to Richardson, TX

Depositphotos_11677339_xs

In the event of an emergency, reaching help as quickly as possible can make all the difference when it comes to saving people’s lives. This is why many public agencies today support text-to-911 availability. Richardson, a city in North Texas, is just one of the latest places in the United States to embrace the use of emergency mobile text message alerts. Individuals in Richardson can now contact 911 from any device, any time, day or night. 

While there may be some who still prefer to make a phone call in the event of an emergency, law enforcement officials are in favor of the new text messaging system for several reasons:

Texting in an Emergency May be Safer

Emergency operators and 911 workers have pointed out that in certain dangerous situations, texting could be the only life-saving option. For instance, if the person trying to reach 911 needs to hide for his or her own safety, then talking on the phone could prove to be extremely dangerous, whereas texting can silently ensure that help is on the way.

Emergency Text Messaging for Individuals with Hearing Impairment

While deaf and hearing impaired individuals may reach 911 through TTY/TDD relay services, the unfortunate truth is that using such a system adds potentially life-threatening minutes to the time it takes to respond to emergencies. Andrew Phillips, who is an attorney for the National Association of the Deaf, says that there are unfortunate cases in which individuals with hearing impairment have had difficulty getting help quickly. This has been especially true on mobile devices, which are often better suited for texting.

Texting Capabilities and Public Expectations

The fact that smartphones today are in reality multimedia devices, allowing users to attach photos or videos that they've captured, for instance, means that mobile messaging has incredible potential as a crime-solving tool. Thanks to the new emergency text messaging initiative, it is hoped that emergency agencies in Richardson, TX and elsewhere will soon begin receiving essential photo and video data in addition to texted information about what is occurring and where.

The truth is that more and more people, especially younger individuals, expect to be able to communicate via text, regardless of what the context may be. Texting, rather than making a phone call, has increasingly become the public's first instinct, and North Texas and other areas of the country are beginning to respond to this demand. While some Richardson area public safety agencies still lack the technology for this texting system, plans to upgrade are already underway.

Logistics and Making it Work

While T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are currently the only carriers that have made the upgrades necessary for sending text messages to 911, AT&T is also making progress on similar upgrades; and Richardson's system is expected to be fully operational this summer. Once it is running, 911 call-takers will be able to receive texts and respond from their computers, asking mobile users the same questions they would ask when receiving emergency phone calls.

It will likely take some time for many local residents to get used to having text-to-911 as an option. However, emergency call workers and public safety experts believe that once people have heard local success stories, texting to 911 will become a commonly used and significant life-saving tool.

April 28, 2014

How SMS Messaging is Cutting Patient Wait Times in the UK

Depositphotos_24645907_xs

We’ve heard a lot about the health industry’s slowness in catching on to the benefits of SMS messaging and other useful technology. In part, this hesitance is down to entrenched ideas about patient security, but it’s also about restricted budgets and old-fashioned reluctance to change.

In Great Britain, healthcare professionals are slowly coming around to the potential benefits of using SMS messaging between staff and patients. Patient waiting times is one of the hottest issues for the NHS – and one of the most easily solved through the power of text.

An automated SMS messaging system is being trialed across the UK. It gives patients the option to change, accept or receive alternative appointment dates. Did-not-attend rates (DNA) – one of the biggest causes of waiting times – dropped 20% in two hospitals after the rollout.

The NHS made the move in response to a survey that indicated 91% of patients would accept last-minute appointments if a cancellation freed up time – even with only a day or two’s notice. The pilot scheme shows some 50% of cancelled appointments could be refilled using SMS messaging.

Such clear, indisputable successes bode well for the future of SMS in the healthcare setting, which is beholden to tight budget targets. Using extant technology capable of communicating with patients smartphones is the logical answer decreasing the burden on hospital infrastructure.

There’s also an indication that the ease of communication is transformative for the patient experience. Combining SMS with online services, hospitals can engage the difficult younger demographic who make up the majority of DNAs – and most of whom own a smartphone.

Such creative use of existing technology is contributing significantly to the fight to reduce missed appointments, late cancellations, and the failures to meet 18 week deadlines on waiting times. SMS messaging won't solve everything, but it’s freeing up time and resources that can focus on fixing other problems in the NHS.

And there’s no shortage of problems for a health system under increasing threat from spending cuts. Government figures from earlier this year show 2.9 million people were waiting for treatment in the first month of 2014 – up by 362,000 from January 2013. The number of patients who were not treated within 18 weeks also rose.

If these trends are to be reversed, SMS messaging could hold the key. If the pilot is expanded into a systemic policy implemented across all NHS hospitals, the British public will find out...

 

 

April 09, 2014

5 Apps for Helicopter Parents

Depositphotos_4823056_xs

Remember the old days? When kids were free to run wild without their every move being micromanaged by anxious parents? Growing up in the 80s, the best a worried mother could hope for was a call from a public telephone – if the mood struck her child.

Those days are gone. Between SMS messaging, smartphones and GPS, app developers have all the tools they need to help anxious parents keep tabs on their offspring. Kids, you might want to stop reading now. Grownups, check out our top 5 apps for making sure little Johnny is as safe as houses – and your house is safe from little Johnny!

iCam

Featured on Today, CNN and Good Morning America, iCam provides you with live feeds from any room in your house, direct to your mobile device. Each room must contain a running computer with webcams and the app installed. Probably unwise to use it instead of a babysitter, but it’s ideal for people on vacation who can’t shake that feeling that the house is burning down being broken into.

Kitestring

The ultimate in overprotective app, Kitestring can be programmed to track your whereabouts and ensure you arrive safely at your intended destination, at the intended time. Just like a worried parent, it checks up on you by requesting a response at a certain time. If you fail to respond, the app alerts your pre-programmed contacts via SMS messaging.

FBI Child ID

Created by the FBI, this app allows parents to store ID information and photographs of their children. The stored information can be quickly access in the event of the child disappearing. Crucially, it only stores info on the iPhone until parents need to send it to the authorities. The app includes shortcuts to 911 and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Find My Kids – Footprints

In the same vein, this app gives parents real time updates on their kids whereabouts. GPS has been applied to everything from vehicle navigation to mobile marketing solutions, but this is a world-beater in terms of providing parental peace of mind. Find out if your child is travelling alone and whether they’ve arrived at a specific destination.

Txt Shield

As kids grow up, concerns about sinister abductions begin to lessen. But parents of newly-driving teens have a whole new set of concerns. Txt Shield is one of a number of apps on the market aimed at preventing accidents caused by distracted driving. The app sends automatic replies to any incoming text messages based on how fast the mobile device is moving. 

March 17, 2014

Secure Text Banking? It’s All About Checks and Balances

Depositphotos_9659887_xs

SMS messaging provides one of the fastest, easiest ways for consumers to stay in touch with businesses. Banking is no exception. Virtually every major US bank now offers some form of text banking.

Text banking is proving popular with a small number of customers who like to stay on top of the finances – and like the fact they don’t need an internet connection to do it. Nonetheless, as many as 51% of cell phone users think mobile banking is not secure, and the number of bank customers who prefer using cell phones to view balances and transactions stood at around 8% in 2012, when the most recent ABA figures were published. 

This reticence to engage with text banking is understandable. Fears about sending account details via text messages are not unfounded. And even just using text as one part of mobile marketing tactics that make no specific reference to an account will make some customers jittery. When it comes to personal finances, some people will always prefer the real-world transactions they’re used to.

For people more concerned about convenience than worst-case scenario cyber-fraud, SMS messaging is one of the best things to happen to banking. Apart from the improved customer service texting can offer, it’s also – whatever detractors tell you – potentially far more secure than other typed of banking. 

In response to security concerns, most banks have recently designed a whole host of precautions enabling them to minimize fraud and identity theft. Customers are now assigned a PIN they must enter to begin any particular SMS messaging session, as well as nicknames for account numbers.

Leading the way in providing greater security for text banking is Wells Fargo, who were the first bank to make the service available to all customers, even those not enrolled in online banking. Their research indicated customers want to check their balances while on the move, so they implemented a number of codes that customers could text to perform certain transactions. ‘BAL ALL’ lets customers check their balance.  ‘ACT’ tells them if a check is deposited. ‘ATM’ points them to the nearest cash machine.

The bank does not send account numbers or passwords, and their Online Security Guarantee promises 100% insurance if unauthorized activity is reported within 60 days.

Other banks have gone further. Both USAA and BOFA allow customers to deposit checks using an iPhone. Not everyone will be comfortable performing such high level transactions remotely. But for those who want that choice, SMS messaging and mobile banking is making life a whole lot easier.

February 16, 2014

5 Mobile Marketing Tips for Start-ups

 

Anybody who has started their own business understands the problems inherent in such a major undertaking. A paucity of resources – be they personnel or economic – can hobble even the brightest start-up. On the plus side, such restrictions can promote creative thinking and lead to untapped sources of business.

One of the most important aspects of a business plan is an effective mobile marketing strategy. Compared with traditional advertising channels like television, mobile marketing campaigns needn’t be prohibitively expensive. They just need blue-skly thinking, flexibility, and a lot of hard work. If you are in the early stages of building your business, try adopting the following mobile marketing tactics…

1. Text Smart. Despite being, by nature, always on the move, the mobile audience is captive in the sense that their phone is always about their person. By offering people the opportunity to opt in to receiving messages via SMS, you can provide the distraction they need while waiting in line or sitting alone in an airport lounge. Update user on promotions, offer them coupons – anything to make them engage with your brand. But be sure to offer something worthwhile or you risk annoying them (and prompting them to opt out). Research from mShopper.com indicates that mobile subscribers respond best to time-limited offers, so try capping the availability of a promotion at 24 hours.

2. Ground-up Optimization. Successful mobile marketing campaigns are created from the ground up, rather than operating as a hastily-assembled addendum to existing desktop campaigns. Take full advantage of the medium by incorporating functions that can only be performed using smartphones: QR codes, geo-location, augmented reality, apps. They all add to the interaction experience.

3. Trend Watch. Keeping an eye on the latest trends in mobile habits is the best way to remain relevant in a constantly-changing market. In 2012, only 17.5% of internet traffic emanated came[BC1]  from mobile devices. By the end of 2013, that number had grown to 28%. Such a staggering increase would have spelled disaster for any company who took their eye off the ball, so stay on top of the latest developments in the world of mobile.

4. Responsive Design. If you have been paying attention to mobile trends, you will have heard a lot of chatter about responsive design, which describes the automatic adjustment of the layout and content of a website according to what kind of device is visiting it. It’s a critical part of mobile marketing, as it allows all users to have a great experience, regardless of whether they are using a tablet, smartphone or desktop. Talk to your web designers about developing responsive design for your site – it could ultimately replace the current model of entirely separate designs being implemented on each type of device.

5. Test Smart. Successful mobile marketing campaigns will test their ideas thoroughly before submitting them to the world at large. It might mean using a different color palette for mobile displays, or modifying a headline so it reads better on a tablet. The scientific method must be rigorously followed, so isolate one variable at a time during the testing process. Even small tweaks can have a major impact.