It’s no surprise that technology has played an integral part in times of disaster, emergency, or crisis. Companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google have all offered their support to assist people in affected parts of the world to ensure that they can communicate with their loved ones and to help share eyewitness accounts. Twilio happens to be one of those companies and it has launched a new open source offering it’s calling a “Rapid Response Kit”, designed to help rescue teams and organizations quickly deploy telecommunication-focused apps.
Available through the company’s social good foundation, Twilio.org, this Kit is available on Github for any developer to fork and craft their own apps that will help aid their teams in an emergency. Just like how the military has a set of troops available to make quick incursions, so too do non-profits, at least when it comes to mobile apps.
Twilio is offering developers eight ready-to-go apps. These were selected because they’ll fit any immediate need of the team, whether it’s emergency response or community organization. Here are the apps included in the kit:
- Auto-Respond – Use this tool to set up an recorded auto-responder to inbound voice calls or text messages.
- Broadcast – Send one-way communications to a defined group of contacts.
- Conference Line – A simple and easy to use conference line. Provide your contacts with a single number and when dialed will be dropped into a conference call.
- Forward – A quick and easy way to set up a simple call forward from a Twilio number.
- Ringdown – A tool that allows you to dial one number, which then will sequentially dial down a list of prioritized contacts until one of those contacts answer. You are able to set up contact lists ahead of time.
- Simple Help Line – Use this interactive voice response app to set up simple options for callers to press a number for information, or to connect to a pre-determined agent.
- Survey – An SMS-powered survey app, send out questions to a specified list of numbers and gather responses. You define the response parameters.
- Town Hall – With this group conference call tool, an organizer can dial one number which then dials a list of predefined contacts. Individuals who answer the call are dropped into the same conference. This can handle up to 40 people in one conference call.
In a way, Twilio’s ready-to-go apps are perhaps akin to what you might find with a service like Parse. The idea is that in times of an emergency, organizations don’t want to waste time deploying and testing apps — they want to focus on helping people. The Rapid Response Kit appears to be a significant attempt to reframe the story so that groups aren’t focused on the technology, but on the disaster, crisis, and emergency. The company claims that with this new tool, apps can be deployed “in a trivial amount of time” compared to weeks or days.
Some could look at Twilio’s move here as a sign that developers are no longer willing to be complacent when there’s an emergency. Previously, we were left to suffer with antiquated communication options when disaster struck, unable to check in with our loved ones, or even find out what was going on, apart from what was being aired on the news (and we all know how well CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News has been). The Rapid Response Kit allows any size organization to quickly set up shop and deploy apps to help achieve their objective without needing to have the big budgets to sustain it.
The Kit has already been used by The Polaris Project and Code for America, two partners that have been supporters of Twilio.org since the foundation’s launch in September. A couple of apps created through the Rapid Response Kit include one aimed at helping Austin, Texas residents prepare and communicate during wildfire emergencies, and another that is a call-in system designed help cities collect, share and understand community feedback.
Twilio says that this is the first step in “gathering the building blocks, tools and expanded resources for anyone to use.” The organization hopes that the developer community will take advantage of the Open Source software apps and fork them in order to create something that will work specifically for their organization’s needs.
As referenced earlier, Twilio.org is a social good non-profit foundation aimed at delivering “a billion messages for good.” It is providing organizations and charities $500 in kickstarter credits and a 25 percent discount on use of its voice and messaging service. At the 2013 edition of TwilioCon, company CEO Jeff Lawson said that Twilio.org was established to help Twilio extend its efforts and make it more accessible to non-profits.
If you care about the technical specifications, Twilio’s kit will need Python 2.7, a
virtualenv to sandbox it from the rest of the development or server environment, and
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