Using IVR for crisis response

LIRNEasia together with one of Sri Lanka's biggest NGO's, Sarvodaya have successfully completed a feasibility study that looks at integrating Freedom Fone with Sahana's Disaster Management System

Sarvodaya's Community Emergency Response Team field tested the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) functionality in Freedom Fone in a number of different districts in Sri Lanka. The result was overall a positive one. Freedom Fone was found to provide much needed structure for organising voice calls and creating audio content that is critical to complementing early warning alerts and communicating situational reports from the ground once a disaster has struck.

In a Skype interview Nuwana Waidanyatha, a senior researcher at LIRNEasia, found that Freedom Fone addresses a basic need for complementing text based alerting systems with voice messages and audio communications. 

"We found there is a greater need for voice based communications especially when we issue a text alert using SMS. The character limitation limits the amount of information we can send," says Waidanyatha. 

"When alerting the first responders in an emergency - what we call the first responder problem - if we could deliver messages via voice as well as text, that would be much more effective. That's where we found Freedom Fone very useful."

Sarvodaya's emergency coordinators were quick to stress that present day methods for communicating situational reports from a disaster are informal and ad hoc at best. In an emergency situation - whether Tsunami, flood or earthquake - the rapidity of response and accuracy of the information provided by any disaster management system is of the essence. 

“With the electronic voice recording system, we have a record telling our story, which otherwise, could go unheard and then turns in to a finger-pointing game.”

The study points to the importance of integrating IVR as a complementary communication feature in any emergency relief opperation. This also provides an immediate solution to localisation challenges be it in language, translating to different alphabets and reaching audiences that may be illiterate and/or unable to use SMS.  

The word “Sahana” means “relief” in Sinhalese, one of the national languages of Sri Lanka. Initiated in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean, Sahana have specialised in developing software solutions to the emergency and disaster management process.