Mobile Pictographs for Disaster Communication

Addressing the Linguistically Challenged

Use of symbology for communicating disaster information

Introduction 30% of the Asian and Sub-Saharan populations are low-literate. Present day ICT-driven disaster and climate change communication does not provide the means for sharing risk information with and receiving risk information from low-literate or linguistically challenged populations. There is no established pictograph dictionary and semantics. Our challenge is to validate the concept of pictographic disaster communication and to stimulate feedback on design requirements.

Pictograph enabled communication will empower communities of practice in disaster and climate change to include all linguistically challenged populations. It will bring about change in ways which risk is perceived and communicated by the low-literate and linguistically challenged. Moreover, pictograph enabled communication empowers interconnection of these marginalised populations for knowledge mobilisation in the given context.

Software Components and Stakeholders

The outcome will affect everybody working on or with Sahana Eden.

Disaster pictographs will be found in

  1. disaster alerts, predominantly on mobile devices
  2. components for issuing text-free disaster reports
  3. GUIs, as icons

In disaster alerts, pictographic descriptions of emergency actions are regarded as well, replacing textual advice. This will affect the way alerts are understood and designed as of today.

Reporting text-free disaster reports requires new input components.

In the GUIs, the outcome of this project will just result in a change of images.

User Stories

Receiving a pictographic alert

In an emergency case, an illiterate local stakeholder receives a disaster alert on his mobile phone. The alert visuals clearly indicate the danger, the type of emergency that is happening, the time frame of the emergency, and its severity. Additionally, the user can also understand from the pictographic descriptions, what he has to do now, where he has to go, and whom to consult. The illiterate stakeholder is able to follow these instructions and lives happily everafter.

Reporting a pictographic incident

An illiterate user observes an emergency case that needs to be reported. He can use the mobile device to issue a pictographic incident report. The user is guided to a step by step reporting system implementing a decision tree and is able to put together a report simply by choosing pictures. Reports contain the type of incident, the severity, and details depending on the incident.


A dictionary of pictographs and an underlying pictographic grammar. Prototypes will be the outcome of the HIF funded project.


Design considerations come along with the project outcome at the earliest.


  • Practitioner requirements gathered from the CAP Implementation Workshop.
    • Policy paper

Discussions with the Research team in Bangalore.

Current Projects

HIF Realization Grant

Within the HIF funded "Mobile Pictographs for Disaster Communication" project Sahana Software Foundation investigates the use of pictographs in disaster information systems to understand the challenges for implementing a pictograph-based disaster communication system on mobile phones with the capability to save life and livelihoods in disaster situations.

Planned Implementation

No implementation planned yet.

Future Extensions

None planned.

Outstanding Questions

  • What kind of alerts are to be issued? What are the communication needs?
  • What pictographs are suitable to describe disaster situations appropriately?
  • How do pictographs work across borders in different cultural contexts?
  • Are there special needs for pictographs for mobile devices?
  • ...


Other Players

Relevant Literature

Last modified 8 years ago Last modified on 08/07/16 11:56:05

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