GSM SMS Service as a Supplementary Emergency Warning System (SEWS)

06 Dec

This is a concept note of a theoretical Short Messaging Service (SMS) based system that can emulate the Public Emergency Broadcast commonly used in broadcast media.


Public Emergency Broadcasts are used to reach out to the public to inform them of a certain vital emergent issue e.g. Hurricanes, Typhoons, flooding and epidemics.

SMS RecievedSEWS design is to supplement the current systems in place e.g. Emergency Radio & TV broadcasts, leaflets, town hall meetings etc. It can be used as a reactionary measure after observations made through an Early Warning System require the need to inform the public of a potential and current serious health situation in an affected region. Once a serious health situation calls for the need to reach out to the public, SEWS could be used to pass on the necessary message with great ease and automation.

The SEWS project is proposed to target migratory persons and the local people. This is with the notion that it is more likely for an individual to access their mobile phones than their radio or TV.

People on the move may not be aware of the imminent situation in an area hence SEWS may adequately inform them hence may eventually reduce the spread of the epidemic to other regions.

A good case in point is the current Swine Flu situation. If every mobile phone user during the dawn of the epidemic received information through the proposed SEWS, the spreading rate of the pandemic may have reduced probably significantly since information is sent and received immediately rather than it being received through the usual media i.e. TV, Radio and Newspapers which could be time costly.

With the advent of mobile telephony and the market penetration having deeply entrenched across the world, the mobile phone handset together with the complementary services provided have seen it become more than a social asset but more of a necessity.


The concept is simple; information rich SMS shall be sent to mobile phone handsets within a certain boundary with messages specifically targeting the area on a specific emergent serious health issue.

The SMS shall only be sent to mobile handsets within a certain boundary which shall be marked out by base stations. Once an mobile handset user enters within the boundary the mobile phone user immediately gets an SMS to inform or advice of the emergent situation in the area e.g. if a traveller is to enter into Mexico, once they have passed the border they shall receive an SMS informing them of the Swine Flu situation and advising them which precautions to undertake. The SMS content can be more specific in that if the traveller is in Mexico City the information received in La Paz in Mexico

City, may be different than the information received while they were in Tultitlan which is still in

Mexico City. This is due to the different experiences in the different regions and it is preferable to make the information as localised as possible so as to make it more relevant.

Components of SEWS

SEWS is to be comprised of in 2 parts

  1. Data Collection
  2. Information Dissemination

1. Data Collection

Data collected from the ground is to be sent to a Central Data Management Centre (CDMC) for analysis which shall be scrutinised by experts who shall then recommend on the messaging. The data may be primary or secondary data. Secondary data is to be only collected from partnering with specific medical or governmental institutions. The CDMC shall maintain a database which shall provide basic related information on the affected region e.g. contacts and location of the closest Emergency Response Services institutions, specialist doctors etc.

2. Information Dissemination

On receiving data from the ground, the CDMC shall then decide on the need to disseminate the information and if so which final message is to be sent out to the public after thorough scrutiny and confirmation.

The message to be disseminated should achieve at least one of the following objectives

  1. Inform: the user will be welcomed into the area and informed of the current situation which necessitated he/she have to read through the SMS. This should be done in a sensitive considerate manner so as to avoid sparking any panic in the public.
  2. Advice: the user shall be advised on the necessary steps to take e.g. what precautions to take, if suspecting of have been infected then what steps should the person take
  3. Educate: the user shall be educated of the pandemic (symptoms) and hence shall be more vigilant plus will feel more at ease due to the availability of information.

The message content may contain amongst other

  • The emergent health situation e.g. Cholera outbreak in Laini Saba village, Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya
  • Precautionary information e.g. in the case of Cholera, hygiene and proper food preparation may be encourage
  • Advice to the affected e.g. steps to take once suspected to be infected and location and contacts of nearest health centre.

So using the above information and scenario, the final SEWS message may be phrased as

“CHOLERA OUTBREAK IN LAINI SABA VILLAGE, KIBERA. Please practice proper hygiene. Clean your food well before cooking. Dispose all waste properly. If affected, please report to Mbagathi District Hospital or call 999.” [SEWS: KIBERA]

Efficiency of SEWS

GSM Mobile MastThe beauty of mobile communication is its ability to segment a region into smaller cells hence enhancing the ability of just reaching out to the one’s specifically being targeted. The Mobile carrier chops up a region into cells. Each cell is typically sized at about 26 square kilometres. Cells are normally thought of as hexagons on a big hexagonal grid. Each cell has a base station that consists of a tower and a small building containing the radio equipment. The coverage area of each base station forms a virtual boundary within a segmented region, hence facilitating reaching mobile phone users in a specific cell without sending a blanket message to all Mobile Phone Company users.

One crucial and vital impressive nature of the proposed system is its automation. Even if a mobile phone user is not talking on their phone, their phone is constantly sending and receiving information with the base station within its vicinity. The reason for this communication between the phone and the base station is so that the mobile phone system knows which mobile network the user’s phone is in, and so that their phone can change base station cells as one moves around. Every so often, the mobile phone and the base station will exchange a packet of data that lets both of them know that everything is OK. It is during this communication that once a base station in the affected area identifies a new mobile phone in its vicinity an SMS will be automatically sent to the mobile phone to inform the mobile phone user of the area’s emergent Health situation.

Information received through SMS is instant, straight to the point and can be saved for future reference. With it being implemented on a mobile phone technology it means the information received through SEWS shall be within easy reach to the user. Even if the user is to have switched their mobile phones off, they shall still eventually receive the message once the phone is turned on.

Management of SEWS

All these shall be controlled from a centralised location which preferably would be a government institution, either a Medical or Emergency Preparedness Ministry or a specialised Government body.

The government can opt to install its own infrastructure or form partnerships with private companies to effectively provide the service.

Speed, Accuracy and Efficiency shall be vital aspects during the management of SEWS. Speed in terms of Time worthiness of the information, Accuracy in terms of the specifics of the information are totally correct and Efficiency in terms of once beginning transmission the SEWS system should be relaying information with minimum or no disruptions.


SEWS main role is to supplement the main systems at hand to handle Health Emergency situations.

It is simple, straight forward and cost effective. With the rapid spread of Mobile telephony and the reducing costs of communication, vital information will be guaranteed to reach necessary target group with improved assurance of successful delivery.

In improved infrastructural and economical conditions, SEWS could be enhanced to be able to transmit Multi‐Media Messaging Service (MMS) or Enhanced Messaging Services (EMS), which can be able to transmit more illustrated and comprehensive messages.

With the current information craved society, SEWS shall bridge the gap between the public, health experts and governments and in turn save many lives and reduce national medical costs while controlling the epidemic. With this system an epidemic may be restricted to one locale (an outbreak), and eventually preventing a more general “epidemic” or even global pandemic.


  1. GSM World Coverage as at 2009

    GSM Global Network Coverage 2009

    GSM Global Network Coverage 2009

  2. Swine Flu World Map

    World : Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 affected countries and deaths, status as of 21-Mar-2010
    World : Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 affected countries and deaths, status as of 21-Mar-2010


Leave a comment

Posted by on December 6, 2010 in Tech


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: