The 4636 SMS Shortcode for Reporting in Haiti

Yesterday, with the help of dozens of people from multiple organizations, we launched an SMS short code in Haiti!

If you are in Haiti, report emergency info and location by texting 4636.

Subscribers on the DigiCel network in Haiti can now report incidents by sending text messages free of charge to 4636. The shortcode makes it even faster and easier for eyewitnesses to report developments on the ground.

If you are in Haiti, report emergency information and location by texting free to 4636
If you are in Haiti, report emergency information and location by texting free to 4636

A key goal is to make the SMS project easy to use for those on the grounds with needs and organizations on the ground trying to help. The radical problem is mixing two completely different scenarios here:

  • Finding people
  • Relieving needs

The heavy lifting of parsing and then separating these messages into the two main buckets (“needs” and “missing persons”) is the tech communities (our) role.

We understand that the incoming SMS messages will be in a completely open form, even though we ask for messages to have certain types of data in it (issue and location). The phone number will be automatically saved into the database as a key identifier, noting that more than one person might be using any given phone.

How it works

The basic process for this project follows is this:

  1. Put word out that people on the ground can send [Name, location, status/message]
  2. SMS submitted, with varying levels of structure/detail
  3. Enters database
  4. Passed to a mechanical turk-type outfit of volunteers for structuring
  5. Message is structured in the database
  6. Gets passed off to orgs (via Sahana) that can do something about the issue

Background

Shortly after we deployed http://haiti.ushahidi.com in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, it became clear we needed a local SMS short code to make mobile reporting more viable. Josh Nesbit, Co-Founder of FrontlineSMS:Medic, took the lead by looking for a contact on the ground in Haiti. Using Twitter, Josh found Jean-Marc Castera who was heading to the DigiCel command center.

Josh says that, “skyping with Jean-Marc on the ground, and letting the Ushahidi team in Kenya and the US know I had someone from DigiCel’s command center on the line was an awesome moment.” Working in partnership with the U.S. Department of State (Big thanks to @kateatstate), Ushahidi eventually secured the short code 4636 from DigiCel.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes, Brian Herbert worked with Josh, Luke Beckman from InSTEDD, Paul Goodman from DAI, and Rob Munro to structure content. They created an online database at http://4636.ushahidi.com where incoming raw SMS reports can be tagged and mapped. Local organizations can subscribe to the SMS feed by contacting Brian Herbert.

On the ground in Haiti, Nicolas di Tada and Eric Rasmussen, CEO of InSTEDD also provided crucial support. Nicolas did the initial testing of the shortcode and is currently handling local outreach. InSTEDD’s EIS project and Reuters are using the short code to register mobile numbers from people on the ground for vital information blasts.

And now we’re looking for volunteers to process the incoming SMS Reports. Please see these instructions to learn how you can help!

Haiti Earthquake

Get Involved

The system is currently tracking information in the several categories and subcategories including: emergencies, threats, responder activities, news about individuals, and the location of resources.

How to Report:

How to receive Alerts:
Subscribe at http://haiti.ushahidi.com/alerts to receive alerts to your mobile phone or email.

How you can help:

[Image courtesy of UNDP]

65 Responses to “The 4636 SMS Shortcode for Reporting in Haiti”

  1. Hey Janet. We’re working with InSTEDD and ThomsonReuters (EIS) on the 4636 project as well. We’re handling the data as it comes in, doing our “sms turk” thing (which is people applying structure to unstructured SMS messages), and then passing that info off to groups that can help. The EIS team is using it for broadcast and disaster information messages as well as helping with getting the information to the right response teams.

  2. shadowhand

    People such as yourselves give me hope. Thank you Ushahidi.

  3. On the one hand you’re doing something really amazing technologically- x1000 better than DARPA’s ‘Find the Red Balloons’.
    On the other hand- how do you know that a cluster of reports reflects an urgent need? It could just be an indication that people there have the means to report.

  4. @Debbie – excellent question. Right now we’re just passing the messages onto the orgs that can help on the ground and they’re doing a triage on them. However, let me ask the team if we can do something within the system to give an indication of “urgency” or “need level”.

  5. If your backlog of sms data is growing, we could help by setting up a similar sms classification form in Mobenzi and linking into your data source. This is the exact type of problem we designed the system to handle – http://www.mobenzi.com/index.php/features/improving-the-usability-of-sms-messaging-to-computers/.

    This would allow people without PC’s to quickly classify sms messages using standard mobile phones. Unfortunately the 4636 messages are not in English so we don’t have access to a team of people who could do the work. We are hoping that there are others who might be able to assist here if it is needed (i.e. someone who could put together a team of French speaking people with phones that support Java).

    Contact me via the website (www.mobenzi.com) if you think we can help.

  6. Please note that the encoding you are using is incapable of reading european characters, which are used in creole (è, ò etc) and french. The volunteers are doing a lot of guesswork which succeeds at an 80-85% margin. I’m not sure we can risk the remaining margin of error. Thank you. Thank you for everything you are doing.

  7. It is amazing, my friend is in Haiti, He has used this code of text msg. Really helpful.

  8. It is cool that they stepped it up so quick to get a number way of contacting emergency services. Keep the fight alive.

  9. This is a great project it will really help a lot in the emergency cases.. But the question is; are the emergency personnel well trained in terms of emergency crisis? Because if not the project 4636 will be useless…

  10. I wanted to thank you for this special read. It is good news for people in Haiti. But my question is ‘are the emergency personnel well trained in terms of emergency crisis?’

  11. we apreciate ur concern to support such a cause.
    Haiti earthquake was a drastic incident andwe provide u all our support.

  12. We had some relatives working there and they were rescued with this – so many thanks – We didn’t know what to do

  13. Pier Lupio

    Please note that the encoding you are using is incapable of reading european characters, which are used in creole (è, ò etc) and french. The volunteers are doing a lot of guesswork which succeeds at an 80-85% margin. I’m not sure we can risk the remaining margin of error. Thank you. Thank you for everything you are doing.

    Cheers and keep up the good work,
    Piers,
    Far Cry 3: far cry 3 review