Empowering public safety through mobile technology

Planet TextDeveloping nations have historically faced significant challenges in distributing information to their people, particularly emergency-related information during natural or man-made disasters. Many countries lack a central technology infrastructure, and even among those that do, electronic delivery of data is hindered by low rates of traditional computer and Internet access. Fortunately, advances in mobility have changed the game, as more and more global citizens are connected like never before.

To take a step back, we should examine how mobile communications have transformed the way people from all economic levels communicate. This amazing infographic from MBAOnline.com shares some eyebrow-raising statistics:

  • Mobile phones are the #1 selling electronic product in the world, with two out of three people in developing countries having mobile phone subscriptions
  • Texting is the #1 most-used data service in the world, with 4.2 billion people worldwide sending 6.1 trillion texts in 2011 alone
  • 1.7 billion people worldwide in 2012 will have phones but no bank accounts and do their banking entirely by phone

Head to Africa and the numbers are even more impressive. The GSM Association (GSMA) last November stated that Africa is the second-largest mobile market in the world after Asia, with 649 million connections in 2011 and an expected 735 million connections by the end of 2012. For perspective, those figures are out of a total continental population of just over one billion.

Advances in technology now enable half of Africans to own smartphones, even as traditional computers remain too expensive for most Africans to afford. Mobile technology has therefore provided many Africans their first-ever access to the Internet and social media, and a January 2012 study by Portland Communications found that many Africans have embraced this opportunity:

  • 57 percent of all tweets sent from Africa came from mobile devices
  • 81 percent of Africans use Twitter to converse with friends
  • 68 percent use Twitter to monitor national news and 76 percent use it to monitor international news
  • African Twitter users also almost always use Facebook (94 percent) and frequently post videos on YouTube (69 percent)

Mobile technology is becoming a way of life in developing areas of the world.  For example, the Grameen Foundation, a microfinance organisation, uses mobile phone technology to help lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty. Grameen leases smartphones to Ugandan farmers so those farmers can receive agricultural and financial information to share with their neighbours, and in turn pass information back to agricultural organisations and food programmes. The Guardian reported that the technology has enabled Ugandan farmers to save their seeds from drought.

So what does all this have to do with public safety? Quite a bit, actually. The explosive growth of mobile technology worldwide has created a more informed and participatory populace eager to share information. Governments are seeing the benefit from two-way communication with their people, especially in helping identify and eliminate public safety threats. Some examples:

The increasing prevalence of smartphones doesn’t just mean that more people can find public safety information on the Web. People can also access global news sources and more easily collaborate across multiple social media platforms with their friends, law enforcement and public safety officials, and the rest of the world. The United Nations’ June 2011 declaration that Internet access is a human right will only accelerate smartphone adoption around the world, increasing the access and benefits we’re already seeing.

Please don’t hesitate to share other examples of how mobile technology is transforming national security! You can find us @MicrosoftPSNS or at safetyanddefense@microsoft.com.

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Hawkins | Managing Director, Public Safety and Justice, Worldwide Public Sector, Microsoft Corporation

Dr. Andrew Hawkins, Director, Public Safety & Justice Solutions, Worldwide Public Sector, has more than two and a half decades’ public sector expertise. He holds a PhD in Management Science from Lancaster University Management School. Read More