Ping: a Tool for Families and Groups to Check-in During Emergencies

Digital Content

It’s been a hectic 4 days in Nairobi. The Westgate siege is now over, so the President tells us, though there will be a lot of cleanup and forensics to do.

The full Ushahidi team met yesterday (many virtually, of course), and we talked about many issues surrounding the Westgate siege. Not least amongst them was the fact that we had a hard time checking in with each other. And then found out that one of our team’s wife and 5 children were inside of the mall, while he was traveling out of country. They eventually got out a few hours later, to which we were relieved.

This lead us to then think through our skills and tools, and where we could be useful.

In an emergency, how do you find out quickly whether your family, your team, your friends are safe?
The Ping App - a group check-in tool for emergencies

The Ping App – a group check-in tool for emergencies
How About a Way to “Ping” Your Group?

There was a consistent problem in every disaster that happens, not just in Kenya, but everywhere. Small groups, families and companies need to quickly check in with each other. They need to “ping” one another to make sure they’re okay. It has to be something incredibly simple, that requires little thinking to use. People have been doing some stuff in this space in the past, the best like “I’m Ok” are focused on smartphone users, but we have a need to make it work for even the simplest phones. Our goal is to have this available for anyone globally to use.

“Ping” is basically a binary, multichannel check-in tool for groups. The idea is that families and organizations could use this for quick headcounts on how everyone was, then use it as an on-ramp into a Red Cross missing persons index or something like Google’s People Finder app.

We’re putting the first version of it up at Ping.Ushahidi.com – here’s how it works:

You create a list of your people (family, organization), and each person also adds another contact who is close to them (spouse, roommate, boy/girlfriend, etc).
When a disaster happens, you send out a message for everyone to check-in. The admin sends out a 120 character message that always has “are you ok?” appended to the end.
This goes out via text message and email (more channels can be added later).
The message goes out three times, once every 5 minutes. If there is a response, then that person is considered okay. If no response, then 3 messages get sent to their other contact.
We file each response into one of 3 areas: responded (verified), not responded, not okay.
Every message that comes back from someone in that group is saved into a big bucket of text, that the admin can add notes to if needed.