Using technology to engage with communities affected by El Niño

Published: 14 June 2016 10:00 CET

The Trilogy Emergency Relief Application (TERA) is an innovative location-targeted SMS system that allows users, including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, to send messages containing disaster warnings, health advice, and updates on emergency preparedness and responses. This system is also  designed  for a two-way communication approach that allows aid agencies and mobile phone users in disaster-prone areas to interact. Sharing useful information with affected populations in languages they understand, through media and technology they trust, can help save lives, protect livelihoods, and strengthen recovery following a disaster.

TERA was designed in response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and has since been rolled out globally. In Kenya, the TERA SMS system was launched by the Kenya Red Cross Society in July 2015, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). To date, 72 million messages have been sent through the Airtel and Safaricom networks.

El Niño preparedness and response

During the El Niño preparedness phase, the Kenya Red Cross Society engaged communities by sending out messages to those living in flood and landslide-prone areas, notifying them of the risk of flooding due to the ongoing rains. These SMS were sent out targeting the most at-risk communities in parts of Coast, Nyanza province, Western and North Eastern regions.  And during the El Niño rains, communities living along the Tana River Basin (mainly Garissa in North Eastern province and Tana River) received messages warning them of floods due to dam spillages. The engagement was successful as most community members moved to higher areas and this helped avert losses both in human lives and property.

Feedback from communities

A mechanism was set up to collect feedback from communities with a set of six volunteers located at the Emergency Operations Centre. Between 9 - 21 December 2015, a total of 971 calls were received from communities, including reports of damaged/destroyed houses, damaged/destroyed latrines, and damaged crops and animals swept away by flash floods. Feedback was reviewed and shared with Kenya Red Cross Society field teams for action. In Busia County in Western region, the teams responded by distributing non-food items to affected communities following verified reports of floods.

Through the TERA SMS platform, the Kenya Red Cross Society interacted with communities and helped save lives and property by giving communities the lead time to prepare when flooding was imminent.

The Kenya Red Cross Society plans to explore further on the use of TERA as a feedback and complaints mechanism, and as a measure to continuously disseminate and use generated data to assist in its decision making process in relation to programming and response.