When Superstorm Sandy bore down on the Northeast U.S. last month, millions of people instinctively turned to their smartphones for news, help, and communication. Mobile is usurping more than just the desktop computer. In many ways, our phones and devices have also replaced weather and FM radios, walky-talkies, and even flashlights.
Furthermore, if we’ve learned anything from the wild weather in recent years, it’s that a disaster can strike anywhere in the country. Hurricanes have ventured farther north than usual, and tornadoes and earthquakes are a threat across the continent.
When home electricity goes out and phone lines are jammed, the apps stored on your phone may be your lifeline in an emergency. To ensure that you’re prepared for whatever type of storm blows your way, check out these apps to get you through the next disaster:
Pocket First Aid & CPR
Designed and frequently updated by the American Heart Association, this app made headlines after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, when a man trapped under rubble for 60-hours used the app to set a compound fracture, stop excessive bleeding from his head, and treat shock. This underscores the potential value of apps versus turning to the mobile web for information — even if wireless and data service networks are completely shut down, the information stored within an app will often still be accessible. With this app, priced at $1.99, the basics needed to be a first-responder to any medical emergency are literally at your fingertips.
CPR & Choking
Don’t want to spend the $2 for a comprehensive first aid app? At least prepare yourself in case the need to administer CPR arises. Although a certified training session is the best way to learn, a free app like ‘CPR & Choking’ can provide useful reminders or literally save a life by instructing a person with no CPR experience through a ‘watch and follow’ 30-second video. Half a minute can make a lot of difference.
Whether you foolishly stayed home and ignored evacuation notices or a disaster appeared out of nowhere, getting to a shelter can be the first line of safety and aid. To help guide people to these safe havens, the American Red Cross maintains this app that shows the closest shelter location and quickest route there.
There are lots of free flashlight apps to choose from for your smartphone that work by turning your camera flash into a constant beam. Most include a brightness setting, which you may want to turn down if you’re conserving battery during an emergency. If you haven’t already downloaded a flashlight app, do it now.
If you live anywhere on the East Coast, this free app is for you. Charting existing and predicted storm paths, the app allows would-be storm chasers (and those potentially in the line of fire) to monitor pressure changes, wind, and storm surge swell. For up to the minute information as a storm bears down, an app can even beat TV and Internet news to reveal current conditions.
5-0 Radio Police Scanner
If you find yourself fascinated by the show ‘COPS,’ a police scanner app may end up consuming much of your time even during non-disaster days. Although you can pay $2 to upgrade to more access, the free version of 5-0 Radio Police Scanner includes streams of most police, weather, and emergency radio feeds in the country’s major metropolitan areas. During a disaster, the police feed can offer the fastest and most accurate information about current conditions.
Voxer caught on quickly last year as the ‘walky talky’ app, but it hasn’t gained usage as quickly as it did users. Where it may prove incredibly useful, however, is during times when phone lines are jammed but data service is still available. If you need to communicate with family quickly and efficiently during an emergency, beyond the limitations of texting, Voxer provides a reliable alternative.
Dropbox (or GoogleDrive)
Cloud storage comes in handy every day, from saving files between home and the office to sharing documents with coworkers, but it really shows its true value during a disaster. Where are your health, home, and life insurance documents stored? What about your will and your health records? Digitize all of your crucial records and store them on the cloud. If your home or office is reduced to rubble, even an indestructible safe may take days or weeks to reach, and your laptop may never be seen again. By keeping the paperwork you need stored safely on the cloud, you’ll be able to recover and move on with your life.
Were you in the path of Sandy or another recent disaster? What apps did you find useful to get through the crisis?