We were inspired by the numerous recent tragedies to build something that would help people who do not have access to the same tools we take for granted every day. Especially in less wealthy disaster areas, access to LTE infrastructure is incredibly limited. We sought to use the Twilio API to help both the citizens and government of these areas more quickly recover from natural disasters.

What it does

Our project provides two different insights on the disaster.

The first of these is the SMS based logging and information system, which allows citizens to log their whereabouts, their wellbeing, and report the level of damage to infrastructure around them. The sms app also provides rudimentary internet search access so victims may search

Secondly, people with data access are able to see a city by city overview of this data in our IOS app. We envision this being useful to both the government (for planning infrastructure restoration projects) and to family members out of the way of the disaster who wish to see the status of their loved ones.

How we built it

Each of us took charge of one half of the project; Omar developed the IOS app and created our firebase structure, wheras Alex set up Heroku hosting, wrote the serverside node.js, and interfaced with the Twilio API.

Development of the IOS app started with thinking about the user experience and the best way for them to look into information that is most important to them about the natural disaster. We simplified the UI into two steps to be able to be able to access all the data they need. Omar started with a barebones version of the software, including a location sign up and a static map image. Over time Omar crafted the code necessary to deal with the data available on the firebase.

Development of the javascript side of the project started with a simple heroku app that would simply text Omar whenever it was run. It developed into something that would reply whenever somebody texted it, and from there Alex implemented a state machine based console commands system. Once this system was polished, Alex hooked it into the firebase database so that it can communicate with the IOS app.

Late at night, the backend and front end finally met in a fashion akin to Michelangelo's painting "The Creation of adam" ( We ironed out some kinks with capitalization and random extra white space, and made sure that new entries to the database would be constantly pushed to the app.

Challenges we ran into

Alex had some issues on account of it being his first time working on backend web development, especially getting used to Heroku as a web hosting service and using the Twilio API. The state machine command line also took a lot of debugging.

The biggest challenge for Omar was safely unwrapping the data from firebase.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • We think that the SMS web search feature is incredibly valuable for giving victims access to vital health and weather information.

  • We are happy with the overall polish of the project and design of its front end.

-The project is applicable to anywhere on earth, not just the US

What we learned

Alex learned a great deal about node.js and serverside infrastructure.

We both learned correct database management and how to use the Twilio API.

Omar learned a lot (from alex's ranting) about how painful the node_modules folder is. He now appreciates iOS a lot more.

What's next for SOSMS

We would like to switch from our current system of addresses stored in the database to lat,long coordinates and google maps geocoding. Currently, we are restricted from doing so as a consequence of our free hosting service.

Given more time we also had plans for a 3d, react.js browser front end, however we were not able to create this during the hackathon.

To further support our idea of it being a globally applicable app, we would also like in the future to support a number of different languages.

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