Helpful Disaster Response Apps for SmartphonesBrian Neville
Recently the Red Cross released its new Hurricane app that offers real-time alerts and information about what to do to prepare for hurricane season, what to do in the event of a hurricane and how to recover after a hurricane. Maybe the most interesting application is the one touch “I’m Safe” button that lets users broadcast that they’re safe via social media channels. During the massive chaos in New York City after 9/11 and New Orleans after hurricane Katrina we saw miles of photocopied missing person posters plastered on all available surfaces as people searched for friends and loved ones. Would a social media broadcast system have helped? Of course, cell phone relay stations were jammed for days in both situations, but the Red Cross reports that text and data service is more dependable than phone service during an emergency, so social media is a tool that can be a big help in a disaster. In fact, the technology may even alleviate some strain on cell stations in an emergency or after a disaster. If a wider circle of friends is notified that their loved one is safe, they don’t need to inundate immediate family members with phone calls.
Also interesting is the remote monitoring alert functionality. It’s meant to allow you to monitor the geographies where your friends and family reside, but the real benefit is the ability to have a neighbor put the plywood or shutters over your windows, evacuate your pets or grab your emergency document box in case you’re traveling when a storm hits. Now, you don’t have to check the weather for your hometown every day while traveling – something that may be very difficult to do if you’re out of the country.
Other benefits of the new Red Cross app:
- Location-based NOAA weather alerts for the United States and its territories that users can share on social networks
- Locations of nearby Red Cross shelters that are open
- Simple steps and checklists people can use to create a family emergency plan
- Preloaded content that gives users instant access to critical action steps even without mobile connectivity
- Toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm
- Badges users can earn through interactive quizzes and sharing on social networks
This app is on the heels of their First Aid app which features simple step-by-step instructions for every day first aid scenarios, integration with 911, videos, safety tips for many disaster scenarios and quizzes. Preloaded content means you don’t need reception in an emergency.
The Red Cross’s apps are extremely well done, are available for both iPhone (iOS) and Android and they’re free. There are many other emergency and disaster apps on the market though – here are some worth checking out:
- Red Panic Button ($3) is just what it sounds like, a one-touch panic button that sends an alert to your preset emergency contacts via email, text or Twitter. Your exact GPS coordinates and a link to Google Maps is included, as is a customizable text message.
- Disaster Readiness ($2) is an offline disaster readiness guide with more than 175,000 reference guides on how to respond to any disaster including wildfires, flash floods and terrorist attacks. The offline functionality is nice in case data service is interrupted in an emergency.
- iTriage (Free) helps you quickly determine the severity of an injury and tells you where you can get medical treatment. Developed by two emergency room doctors, the app also allows you to search for medical symptoms and learn about potential causes. One of the biggest perks is the turn-by-turn directions to an ER and the estimated wait times. Oh, and there’s an emergency hotline where you can instantly talk to a doctor or nurse. Pretty impressive.
- GotoAID ($5) doesn’t have a lot of functionality that’s different from other apps, but it does have a Morse Code generator and an Emergency Pulse beacon, which is genius.
Smartphone apps are changing the way we react to disasters and emergencies and some of the most useful apps are free. Of course, the best time to download them is now, before disaster strikes.