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Connecting our community in an emergency with mobile messaging: GovHack 2020 Part 1

BY Michelle Howie 20 October 2020

What do you get when you give 700 Hackers, Hustlers and Hipsters across Australia and New Zealand, access to over 600 Data Sets from all levels of council, government and private sector, plus free tech tools and data portals? World-changing solutions! That’s what went down at GovHack 2020.

After being a participant myself for years (Shoutout to Adelaide and Gold Coast Regional GovHacks!), it was awesome in this year to be a judge and mentor of the Australian National Virtual GovHack with the TelstraDev team. For me, GovHack represents the opportunities we get when we enable everyday citizens to have access to open data, and the tools to harness those insights. We at TelstraDev are also about enabling people of all abilities, to create better lives for our citizens through exposing our core network services via APIs.

For the TelstraDev Challenge 1, we asked 2020 GovHackers; How can our local leaders use mobile messaging to connect with citizens in a safe, reliable, and effective way for emergency communications?

In a crisis, especially in natural disaster areas, one of the hardest things to manage is the co-ordination of citizens and volunteers. SMS and MMS, though older technology, are still some of the most effective ways of communicating, as they are more likely to be read and acted upon than email. For bulk communication and co-ordination you need to have robust, automated services in place that can get the right message to the right people at the right time, integrated into platforms that make sense. That’s where APIs come in.

We had over a dozen submissions to this challenge, all integrating the TelstraDev Messaging API in various ways. Here are some of the finalists for the challenge, and the way they integrated Messaging API:


iFAS (Instant Fire Alert System) by team MERITS

iFAS was built to alert residents at different stages of fire, tackling a topical issue for lack of information in the community during a bushfire. They proposed deploying an ad hoc sensor network into rural bushlands, which collects and analyses environmental data like smoke, heat, sound and animal movement. AI is then used to predict the severity and recommended action, with automated alerts enabled by seamlessly integrating the TelstraDev Messaging API. Team MERITS also thought of other ways to get the message out in the future, including Smart Fridge alerts!

coding with telstradev messaging api govhack for emergency automated broadcast

Watchtower by team Club Platypus

This solution proposed an operational management system with integrated Telstra messaging and CSIRO data analytics for a smarter, more connected modern emergency service. They addressed a gap in scalability for the massive bushfire events we are seeing in Australia lately, including “consistency of information across jurisdictions”. They chose the TelstraDev Messaging API to do this with mass automated SMS for SES staff dispatching and coordination, with their database models available on GitHub.

coding with telstradev messaging api govhack for emergency automated broadcast

Project Mantissa by Team Mantissa

To avoid the pain of getting volunteers to install a new app for workforce management, Team Mantissa created a working linux dashboard to send out SMSs directly to field staff, which was easy to build with the TelstraDev Messaging API:

“It is actually quite surprising how much the Telstra [API] empowered us to make such a powerful solution that can work from a desktop on premise.”

Their serverless, on-prem solution built in cpp, cobol & python allows a central manager to import contact lists, and send selective broadcasts to groups, re-broadcast incoming messages, and assign tasks to individual volunteers. Their repo is up on GitHub.

coding with telstradev messaging api govhack for emergency automated broadcast

FireCloud by FireTech

This early warning broadcast system for bushfire monitoring supplements existing satellite-based systems with IoT remote sensing devices, which integrates that data, and broadcasts emergency SMS alerts if the risk determined in their area exceeds a certain threshold. Their source code is available on GitHub if you’d like to try it out!

bushfire emergency warning text message automated by api

Team FireTech identified the bushfire prone areas with NSW’s BushFire Prone Land dataset and Victoria’s Designated Bushfire Prone Area dataset. Their wireless devices will be connected via LPWAN networks to allow longer battery life, ideal for rural deployments (hello Telstra NB-IoT!).

Solace by Swinburn Army

The COVID-19 crisis was at the top of everyone’s mind during GovHack 2020, as we all dialled in virtually from across the region. Swinburn Army addressed the impact of the pandemic’s effects on our elderly population, namely health & wellbeing. Solace is their mobile app to connect elderly Australians to a caregiver, their families, and suggest relevant events in the community. Integrating open data of active COVID cases and hospitals nearby was a nice touch. To me it was like Bumble BFF, FitBit, Zoom, Google Maps, COVIDSafe and a telehealth app all in one! The Messaging API was utilised for emergency situations triggered by events in the app that sent our broadcasts texts to pre-defined emergency contacts, pre-populating the message with contextual information about their location!

medical emergency sms text alert automated by api codemedical emergency sms text alert automated by api code


All of this year's GovHack submissions, and the videos of our finalists are available on GovHack Hackerspace:

Check back after Oct 20 to see the winners:

Learn more about communication APIs in the TelstraDev GovHack conference workshop:

Try out the API yourself with this quick tutorial:


See part 2 of this blog for the IoT challenge finalists!

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