Environmentalist group launches text alert system

Activist group The Sierra Club launched a test message service to alert consumers of smog.

Unveiled on World Asthma Day, the alerts notify subscribers of smog conditions in their area. The group said that the goal of the program is to help protect people living with asthma from smog, which can increase the frequency and severity of attacks.

"Our hope is that this text alert system helps parents better protect their kids by alerting them when the air outside is unsafe to breathe," Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.

The Sierra Club said that the system can also be used to send messages to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in support of stronger smog pollution protections.

The solution uses data from the EPA-sponsored system called EnviroFlash. The two programs offer the same alerts concerning smog, but EnviroFlash offers text alerts for various kinds of pollutants, such as dust.

Instead of throwing their support behind the federally-backed text alert program, The Sierra Club opted for their own as a way to mobilize environmental campaigns. When users sign up on the groups website, the page says users can expect four "Mobile Action Alert" messages per month. With environmental legislation an ongoing issue, bulk SMS messaging seems like an effective way to rally support.

Speaking with Grist, Zach Ragbourn, Manager of Special Projects for Online Organizing at The Sierra Club, objected to the term "organizing tool" when describing the service, but did not shy away from the system's potential political benefits.

"We want to provide a service, but our supporters are also advocates for cleaner air, so our alerts are designed to give them a pathway to take action," he said. "Instead of just telling people that the air is bad, we also provide an opportunity to take action."

Using mass text messaging as a political tool is not new, but The Sierra Club's efforts evidence the value of using SMS as a means of quickly disseminating important information. Developers can also easily harness the utility of SMS for their own ends through Swift SMS Gateway's SMS API.