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Neighbourhood Watch FrontlineSMS-style

Not only established non-profit organisations can benefit from “long tail” mobile solutions. In this, the fourth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Georgia Popplewell – who manages a community-lead neighbourhood watch scheme in Trinidad and Tobago – talks about the innovative use they found for the software

“Blue Range is an upper middle-class suburb of 280 households located at the northern end of the Diego Martin valley in Trinidad and Tobago. Like many communities in the country, Blue Range has begun to feel the effects of the country’s rising crime rate (543 murders were recorded in 2008), mainly in the form of burglaries.

Security post

The community has a private security patrol and a number of streets are sealed off with barriers at night. Blue Range also maintains a Google Group mailing list which residents and the neighbourhood association use to share information.

Just after midnight on December 4th, 2008, a resident sent a message to the mailing list stating that around 7:45pm he’d seen two men behaving suspiciously in the neighbourhood. Around 8:15pm on the same night, two men broke into the home of another resident. The resident put up a fight and managed to drive the men away, but ended up quite badly injured as a result. That resident and others in the area reported that they had in fact heard dogs barking around that time. It seemed obvious that if the first resident had put his neighbours on the alert at the time he had seen the two men, the incident could have been avoided.

With that in mind, I started looking for ways that security-related information could be shared more quickly and easily among the area’s residents. In my work on the citizen media project Global Voices, I’d come across FrontlineSMS, and decided to try it.

After testing it for several days with a group of my neighbours, I presented FrontlineSMS at a community meeting on December 7th, 2008.  The service now has over 250 subscribers.

Message alert

Blue Range’s FrontlineSMS set-up, currently run from my home on a Macintosh computer, a Motorola PEBL phone and a Clickatell messaging account, is largely automated. Subscribers can add themselves to the service by texting in “addme [name]” (numbers are verified before they’re added to the messaging group). Subscribers can broadcast messages to the entire group of users by adding a specially designated prefix to their text, messages which are then distributed using the message “forwarding” functionality in FrontlineSMS. All security messages sent via the automatic broadcast are also archived on the neighbourhood mailing list using the email forwarding functionality in the software, where residents can discuss them and offer supplementary information.

The FrontlineSMS service has been highly effective in building a greater sense of security and community in Blue Range, and in helping residents feel like they are being kept in the loop with regard to incidents in the area. Recently, for instance, when a security chopper was hovering over the area for about 20 minutes, a message relayed via FrontlineSMS assured residents that the chopper was there not to look for perpetrators but to support a medical evacuation.

In a more recent incident in the area, a burglary on January 12th in which one resident was bound and gagged by the perpetrator – and his wife made to walk through the house and hand over their valuables – has nevertheless revealed gaps in the service and demonstrated that certain parts of the neighbourhood lack the critical mass of subscribers required for it to be really effective.

With each incident, however, more residents are beginning to realise the value of subscribing to the service”.

Georgia Popplewell
Managing Director
Global Voices
www.globalvoicesonline.org

Tags: , , , ,

86 Responses to “Neighbourhood Watch FrontlineSMS-style”

  1. Patrick Meier 9 March 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    Hi Georgia, many thanks for sharing this!

  2. Lou Ann 9 March 2009 at 11:39 pm #

    I really feel a lot better/safer more aware since signing up with your site. Thank you Georgia :)

  3. Dulcie 10 March 2009 at 12:02 am #

    Hi, this is great. Would really like to find out more about this. will be doing checks online and googling.

    Thanks for the post – keep up the good work.

  4. Taran Rampersad 10 March 2009 at 3:39 am #

    Just think – 4 years ago, all this stuff was bleeding edge.

    On the flip side, the email functionality is a problem in T&T due to the geodigital divide…

  5. kiwanja 10 March 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Thanks for the comments, and I echo @Patrick – by sharing this other communities in similar situations may now realise that there is something they can do, and set up their own services

    @Taran – Nice to hear from you again. It’s been a long time! The really interesting thing about Georgia’s project is that, to me, it shows the potential for mobile solutions all the way to the end of the long tail – small community groups looking for simple solutions to something which represents a significant problem to them

  6. Steve Song 10 March 2009 at 2:25 pm #

    You know you’ve caught fire when people start using your technology for things you would never have imagined. These are inspiring examples!

  7. Taran Rampersad 10 March 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    @Kiwanja – I agree. Georgia’s project is interesting and practical for that particular area. But I do have to qualify that project’s reach – there are various socioeconomic and geocentric divides, arguably linked, which do not permit for this solution in most of Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, one person I showed this article to commented, “Well, if we could do that we already would have. And you would have to.” You’ll recall that I’ve been dealing with SMS->other media a year before Twitter was even a company. :-)

    The good part is that, with proper *local* exposure, Georgia’s project could be used as leverage for more internet penetration within Trinidad and Tobago. Certainly, anyone can SMS (though it seems the 40+ demographic does not, and they are typically those most affected) – but to derive long lasting benefits, access to OTHER information must also be had.

    You’ll recall my stance has been the equivalent of an emergency number for SMS messages is required. That stance has not changed; however what I see here is something also needed with Trinidad and Tobago Law Enforcement: Transparency.

    So it’s good. But how good it is remains a factor of how much it is used. I stopped fighting that battle 2 years ago. Perhaps some others shall run into the breech… :-)

  8. kiwanja 11 March 2009 at 11:34 am #

    @Steve – Well, if the fire gets out of control, please be sure to help us put it out! :D

    @Taran – I can’t comment specifically about the environment in Trinidad & Tobago, but the purpose of sharing these stories is so that other people interested in using FrontlineSMS, or other people who may be experiencing similar challenges to Georgia and her neighbours, know that there is something they can do, however small and insignificant it may be on a larger scale.

    I also don’t think that this alert system is meant to replace or be seen as a better solution to existing ‘services’ or procedures, but as a supplemental one. It makes sense to make use of whatever technologies are available, and mobile is obviously part of a wider social media mix. I agree that it would be great if an emergency SMS number existed – in whatever form – but right now it doesn’t, so while people battle those particular challenges others will seek their own (perhaps temporary) solutions. Things like generating transparency are obviously far wider battles, even if they are hugely significant.

    Many mobile-based projects aren’t trying to be cutting edge, and few are going to win awards any day soon. But that’s not why people do them. If SMS can provide a solution to a local problem, people should have the opportunity to implement them, and if FrontlineSMS helps move some of that forward then I’m more than happy with that. This is what the long tail is all about.

    There are certainly huge challenges out there, but sometimes they just have to be tackled one small chunk at-a-time. :)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. changefeed - 9 March 2009

    ->@kiwanja: Neighbourhood Watch FrontlineSMS-style http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6

  2. Juliette LaMontagne - 9 March 2009

    RT @changefeed: @kiwanja: Neighbourhood Watch FrontlineSMS-style http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6 #mlearning

  3. Georgia Popplewell - 9 March 2009

    My neigbourhood’s FrontlineSMS-based crime watch project featured on http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  4. Amira Al Hussaini - 9 March 2009

    RT @georgiap: My neigbourhood’s FrontlineSMS-based crime watch project featured on http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  5. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  6. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  7. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  8. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  9. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  10. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  11. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

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  12. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  13. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  14. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  15. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  16. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  17. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  18. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  19. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  20. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  21. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  22. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  23. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  24. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  25. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  26. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  27. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  28. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  29. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  30. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  31. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  32. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  33. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  34. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  35. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  36. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  37. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  38. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  39. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  40. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  41. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  42. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  43. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  44. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  45. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  46. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  47. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  48. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  49. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  50. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  51. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  52. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  53. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  54. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  55. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  56. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  57. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  58. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  59. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  60. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  61. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  62. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  63. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  64. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  65. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  66. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  67. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  68. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  69. FrontlineSMS o/ - 9 March 2009

    FrontlineSMS-powered do-it-yourself neighbourhood watch early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. http://ping.fm/vw9p4

  70. Ken Banks - 9 March 2009

    @FrontlineSMS -powered DIY neighbourhood watch/early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. More at http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6

  71. Patrick Meier - 9 March 2009

    RT @FrontlineSMS -powered DIY neighborhood watch/early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago – http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6

  72. Brad Rhoads - 9 March 2009

    RT @kiwanja: @FrontlineSMS -powered DIY neighbourhood watch/early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. More at http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6

  73. lucasgonzalez - 10 March 2009

    RT @kiwanja @FrontlineSMS -powered DIY neighbourhood watch/early warning system in Trinidad & Tobago. More at http://tinyurl.com/dd2xg6

  74. Emily Blynn - 3 May 2009

    @usemyideas check this out… using @frontlinesms and mobile phones for neighborhood watch http://tr.im/kmwC

  75. Silent Citizen Patrol – SCAP – makes your neighborhood safer « Use My Ideas - 10 May 2009

    [...] is that my idea offers more precise information regarding the crime notice. In the idea mentioned here, you can use the Neighborhood Watch system, where all people are informing themselves about the [...]

  76. Joel Whitaker - 11 January 2010

    @kateatstate @AlecJRoss Check out @georgiap's @FrontlineSMS enabled neighborhood watch program in Trinidad & Tobago http://bit.ly/6Imd5K

  77. Katie J Stanton - 11 January 2010

    Thanks @joelwhitaker joelwhitaker for @georgiap's @FrontlineSMS enabled neighborhood watch program in Trinidad & Tobago http://bit.ly/6Imd5K

  78. Researching text message community alert systems - 20 April 2011

    [...] needs.  I was excited to discover (via frontlinesms’s superfast twitter reply to me) that a project in Trinidad and Tobago uses FrontlineSMS for a neighborhood alert [...]

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