The 4636 SMS Shortcode for Reporting in Haiti

Erik Hersman
Jan 17, 2010

Yesterday, with the help of dozens of people from multiple organizations, we launched an SMS short code in Haiti! If you are in Haiti, report emergency info and location by texting 4636. Subscribers on the DigiCel network in Haiti can now report incidents by sending text messages free of charge to 4636. The shortcode makes it even faster and easier for eyewitnesses to report developments on the ground.

If you are in Haiti, report emergency information and location by texting free to 4636

A key goal is to make the SMS project easy to use for those on the grounds with needs and organizations on the ground trying to help. The radical problem is mixing two completely different scenarios here:

Finding people

Relieving needs

The heavy lifting of parsing and then separating these messages into the two main buckets ("needs" and "missing persons") is the tech communities (our) role. We understand that the incoming SMS messages will be in a completely open form, even though we ask for messages to have certain types of data in it (issue and location). The phone number will be automatically saved into the database as a key identifier, noting that more than one person might be using any given phone.

How it works

The basic process for this project follows is this:

Put word out that people on the ground can send [Name, location, status/message]

SMS submitted, with varying levels of structure/detail

Enters database

Passed to a mechanical turk-type outfit of volunteers for structuring

Message is structured in the database

Gets passed off to orgs (via Sahana) that can do something about the issue


Shortly after we deployed in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, it became clear we needed a local SMS short code to make mobile reporting more viable. Josh Nesbit, Co-Founder of FrontlineSMS:Medic, took the lead by looking for a contact on the ground in Haiti. Using Twitter, Josh found Jean-Marc Castera who was heading to the DigiCel command center. Josh says that, “skyping with Jean-Marc on the ground, and letting the Ushahidi team in Kenya and the US know I had someone from DigiCel's command center on the line was an awesome moment.” Working in partnership with the U.S. Department of State (Big thanks to @kateatstate), Ushahidi eventually secured the short code 4636 from DigiCel. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes, Brian Herbert worked with Josh, Luke Beckman from InSTEDD, Paul Goodman from DAI, and Rob Munro to structure content. They created an online database at where incoming raw SMS reports can be tagged and mapped. Local organizations can subscribe to the SMS feed by contacting Brian Herbert. On the ground in Haiti, Nicolas di Tada and Eric Rasmussen, CEO of InSTEDD also provided crucial support. Nicolas did the initial testing of the shortcode and is currently handling local outreach. InSTEDD’s EIS project and Reuters are using the short code to register mobile numbers from people on the ground for vital information blasts. And now we’re looking for volunteers to process the incoming SMS Reports. Please see these instructions to learn how you can help! Haiti Earthquake

Get Involved

The system is currently tracking information in the several categories and subcategories including: emergencies, threats, responder activities, news about individuals, and the location of resources. How to Report:

In Haiti SMS to 4636 or internationally to +447624802524

Send e-mail to

Online at

Via Twitter with hash tag #haiti or #haitiquake

How to receive Alerts: Subscribe at to receive alerts to your mobile phone or email. How you can help:

Spread the word among friends & family

Reach out to local organizations and media

Ask international agencies to share their info

Send us your comments to

Join us! Visit for more info

[Image courtesy of UNDP]