SMS disaster warning system?
December 31st, 2004

Another John Schwartz article in the New York Times raises the possibility of using SMS to create a warning system for disaster notification.

When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Sanjaya Senanayake found he could not make calls on his cellphone or regular land line at first – but he could send and receive text messages from his cellphone.

Mr. Senanayake, a 23-year-old television producer, has spent the last few days reporting on the disaster, frantically searching for friends and posting his experiences to the networked world through a Web log, or blog ( – often via text messages relayed by a friend in Mumbai, India, formerly known as Bombay.

“It’s a very easy, instant way to get the message across,” he said in a cellphone interview.

Experts say that thousands of deaths might have been avoided if warning systems had been in place to alert the people around the rim of the Indian Ocean of the tsunami. No such system exists there now, although the United States has such a system in place for countries of the Pacific basin.

Those who design and use the wireless technology known as Short Message Service, currently used for chatter and advertisements, say it could be used to jumpstart governments’ warning networks.

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