The recent hurricanes that have battered parts of the US, it’s territories and the Caribbean have increased the need for us to grow in our disaster preparedness. Residents of Houston, the Florida Keys, West Coast Florida, Cuba, and Puerto Rico who chose not to evacuate will tell you that they wish they had information or were able to relay information about themselves when the storms hit.
Knowledge of the safest routes, nearest shelters and the intensity of the storm will prove to be more valuable than stocking up on supplies and boarding up your home. Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Maria all made landfall as category 4 storms before downgrading leaving devastation in their wake.
In all these instances infrastructure was destroyed, electricity was taken out and people were asked to stay indoors during the storms. Apps were instrumental in saving lives and keeping people safe during these storms.
The apps highlighted here will help you prepare for the disaster before it strikes and survive it during and after it has occurred.
Useful apps before a disaster
American Red Cross App
The Red Cross has several useful apps that enable their first responders to make you a priority and reach you quickly during a disaster. Their first aid app provides you with basic first aid information that can be life saving for you and your loved ones. They also provide a similar app for pet: Pet First Aid.
You also have the emergency app that allows you to monitor severe weather and receive emergency alerts. This is in addition to the tornado, hurricane, flood and earthquake apps that enable you to monitor these volatile weather phenomena and alert your loved ones of where you are.
You can even access vital survival information that the app downloads to your phone even when cellular infrastructure has been destroyed.
This is an app that connects you to emergency personnel like first responders. Once you tap on it, it lets emergency teams know of your location and the type of medical emergency you have. It works using both cell networks and Wi-Fi.
It aids first responders in navigating the urban landscape when trying to find people in need of help. The app also helps steer you away from an approaching threat like flash floods or a storm surge by giving you information in real time.
The ICE Standard app enables you to fill out your medical information to make it easier for first responders to attend to you. It came in handy during the two hurricanes when first responders were able to start rescue missions and using the information tracked down residents who were trapped in their homes and had life threatening medical conditions.
In some instances, emergency medical personnel were able to visit the homes of sick residents who could not move and offer them assistance even before the storms struck.
During hurricane Harvey, good Samaritans were coming from as far as South Carolina with their trucks to help ferry people without cars to shelters before the storm. Waze was instrumental in connecting these volunteers with families that needed help.
Used for carpooling, it was transformed into a rescue mission option in the case of both hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
In times of disaster, running out of gas can be a matter of life and death. GasBuddy helps you find the nearest gas station that has fuel.
Considering the congestion and poor weather condition during both Harvey and Irma, the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, asked residents to use Gasbuddy to find the nearest gas pumps. The app was a great help in connecting people with gas stations that had fuel and reducing the congestion and panic that follows such shortages.
Apps to use during and after a disaster
The FEMA app allows you to post photos of yourself or people in need of urgent help so that first responders can get to them quickly. This is in addition to pointing you to the nearest shelter and giving you the shelter’s information, providing updates of the disaster situation and what to expect in the coming hours.
This app is crucial during and after a disaster as it provides credible, verified information from various government sources that are on the ground.
This app enables you to have a walkie-talkie interaction with your loved ones or neighbors as well as a group interaction with rescue teams near you. It is a great way to keep tabs on family members like children or the elderly because of it’s ease of use.
After Hurricane Harvey and Irma, Zello has become the number one free app on both iTunes and Google play store. During the actual storm over 100 people were registering for the app every second.
With this app you are able to let loved ones to know about your location during and after the disaster. It automatically tracks your movements and sends alerts to your loved ones. The app helps focus evacuation and rescue efforts to people who have not made contact with family or friends.
While it may not have been very prominent before the hurricanes, this app has gained popularity for it’s ability to effectively connect loved ones separated by the storms. After hurricane Katrina, the developers of the app saw how families struggled to find each other and created the avenue to find each other in the midst of chaos.
Red Panic Button
The Red panic app enables you to alert your loved ones when you are in a dangerous situation. It will send a text or email message to your chosen contacts giving them your location and you can append a video or voice message to explain your situation.
It can also be used to contact first responders as was the case in Harvey, Maria and Irma.
Nextdoor came in handy for security and medical personnel enabling them to reach evacuation orders to more people than they would have going door to door. The app is fashioned around the concept of being your brother’s keeper and looking out for your neighbor as volunteers go looking for stranded neighbors using canoes.
Using the app, you can access information about the nearest shelter to you, how to reach rescue teams in your area and the potential flooding expected in your locale among other things.
Everyday apps that come in handy
Snap chat is great app for recording real time situations during disaster situations. During Harvey, there were instances of rescues made possible by snap chat notifications. According to the Washington post, a National Guard Humvee disappeared with two soldiers until the driver of the vehicle sent a snap chat message to his Sergeant letting them know of their location.
You must ensure your phone is charged or you have a spot to charge it in order to access these apps. Understandably, electricity is one of the first things to go but you must always have a backup power source for your gadgets during disaster situations.
These can include previously charged peripheral devices like a generator or fully charged solar devices. During the hurricanes, such devices enable people to stay linked to the world outside.
Apps have revolutionized the impact of natural disasters. Compared to previous years where hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other natural disasters have had free rein, there has been a marked difference in the impact of Irma, Harvey and Maria.
Guest article written by: Nandika Amatieku is a technology writer committed to bringing tech news and knowledge to everyday people. My love for technology helps me sleep well at night and I want that for everyone.