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Feb. 26, 2013, 2:47 p.m.

A new set of guidelines aimed at helping disaster relief workers better use SMS in crisis scenarios was unveiled Monday at the Mobile World Congress. “Towards a Code of Conduct: Guidelines for the use of SMS in Natural Disasters” focuses on the role that mobile providers play in these scenarios and the importance of collaboration. From TechPresident’s Julia Wetherell:

“The humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’ comes first,” states one of the five general guidelines outlined in the document. Evaluating what constitutes harm, in the case of mobile-deployed crisis response, is the heart of the matter. The volunteer team behind 4636 [a Ushahidi platform used in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti] faced this in the issue of obtaining consent to broadcast the emergency tweets, and hand them over to translators in the diaspora. Because the project was deemed to be in victims’ best interest, consent was ultimately implied.

Patrick Meier of the Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute calls the code a “living document” and writes that, since there is often no way to handle the volume of an SMS blast in a crisis scenario, he is working on a way to “automatically parse and triage large volumes of text messages posted during disasters.” The GSMA’s code asks designers to focus on centralized control and a simple, user-oriented design and offers advice on how to acquire — and how long to retain — private user data.

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