The TERA SMS Text System
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Trilogy International Partners, a wireless telecommunications company, has teamed up to form an exciting new partnership. TERA which stands for Trilogy Emergency Relief Application is a mobile phone application that allows aid agencies and mobile phone users in disaster areas to interact and listen in real time. TERA is an SMS text system designed for two way communication between disaster affected people and aid agencies. The information that it delivers helps to save lives, protect livelihoods and strengthen recovery from disasters and crises
The TERA system helps us to save more lives by delivering timely, targeted advice to disaster affected communities that makes our aid effort more efficient. It also helps to give communities a voice, ensuring that the correct type of aid is delivered to the right places. Most of all, it lets disaster affected people know that they are not alone, giving them the strength that they need to carry on.
TERA is a system that is hosted by GSM based mobile communication network operators for use by IFRC staff. It is designed to be operated remotely, allowing TERA to be operational as soon as a disaster develops. Unlike traditional SMS services, which require broadcast messages to be delivered to every subscriber on a carrier’s network, TERA allows the IFRC to specify a particular region or even a neighbourhood to which text messages will be sent to mobile phones. TERA manages outgoing and incoming Short Message Service (SMS) or text messaging between the Red Cross Red Crescent and disaster affected people. Consequently, TERA text messages elicit exceptional response rates from mobile phone users in need of aid, giving them an effective voice on how assistance should be delivered.
TERA uses SMS text for a number of reasons:
- SMS is a basic GSM service. It is available on any handset. It is also one of the first services to be restored after a network outage.
- SMS uses very little network bandwidth, minimising the stress on the mobile network.
- SMS messages are stored on the handset. Recipients can show these messages to other people or they can forward them to people who are registered on another network.
Outgoing messages are used for a number of reasons:
- To give early warnings of floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters
- To provide targeted information on where to find medical help, clean water, food, shelter
- To notify victims about vaccination programmes or changes in the aid services being offered
- To give detailed advice on a range of issues such as hygiene, avoiding fraud, caring for affected people
- To get feedback on the beneficiaries needs and experience of relief services
The system also manages inbound messages from victims:
- Giving feedback to show where aid of various types is most needed
- Using “fuzzy” keyword recognition to automatically respond to a variety of questions
TERA is designed with a number of key features to support aid efforts. It is also designed to minimise impact on host GSM networks and to give host networks the security and control that they need. TERA has been well tried and tested in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010.
The IFRC is currently rolling out a programme to install TERA into 40 of the countries that are thought to be most vulnerable to disasters. It is therefore seeking mobile network operators that are prepared to install TERA into their networks and provide SMS messaging services in times of disaster.