As the eastern United States sifted through the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 media pundits and community leaders are asking what they could have done better. How could we have been better prepared to limit this damage and reduce loss of life? The preparation was quite extensive and the were warnings communicated early, but no matter how experienced the experts have become there is much to be desired for our natural disaster prevention and preparation.

Experts widely agree that increased awareness will lead to an increase in overall preparations to help reduce material damage and limit physical injury and deaths. Better, faster communication is a vital component to spreading awareness, especially when authorities need to quickly communicate an emergency message to a diverse audience composed of millions of individuals. Choosing numerous communication channels is critical; television, radio and emergency alert systems are incredibly valuable, but still fail to reach numerous individuals.

The ubiquitous SMS (text) message can be a powerful communication tool when attempting to reach a vast, diverse audience – receivable on all mobile phones. SMS communications are already being implemented to improve emergency response times and reduce deaths caused by natural disasters internationally. The Philippines have expanded its response system to include SMS to increase communication to its more than 100 million people spread across 7,000 plus islands that experience an average of 20 typhoons a year.

SMS is also the preferred communication method when attempting to contact friends and family after a natural disaster has occurred, according to Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “When there’s a big crisis, don’t try to call people on your phones – text message. It’s a lot faster and gets through,” said Fugate.

SMS will play a key role in future disaster prevention and warnings. What other improvements can be made to limit the damage moving forward? Feel free to discuss in the comments section below.