This edition of the App It Up project "Cool App Roundup" highlights different ways apps can be used in disaster, crisis, and emergency situations.

Preparing for Disaster

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers a free emergency preparedness app. The FEMA app includes preparation guidelines for a variety of disasters, including checklists, safety tips, and local shelter maps. Once you've downloaded the app, all this information is accessible regardless of whether you have phone service or internet access during an emergency. The FEMA app is available in the Android marketplace, with iPhone and Blackberry versions coming soon.

The Red Cross has a simple shelter search web app, accessible via any web browser. Shelter information is updated every 30 minutes.

Notifying Family and Friends

The notification app J-ResQ was developed in response to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The app was developed on the Windows Azure platform, a cloud-based platform for building and hosting web applications. J-ResQ allows anyone in a disaster situation to easily record and send a voice message and email from their mobile phone, telling friends and family about their status. A GPS-based location is also included with the message. Photos and video can also be included. Concerned parties can then search for information and updates using the message sender's email address.

Learn more about how Windows Azure has been used for disaster and emergency response here.

Engaging the Community in Innovative Ways

Fire Department is an innovative app created by the San Ramon Valley Fire Department. The app alerts CPR-certified individuals to cardiac emergencies in their area. In response to a cardiac incident, emergency dispatchers can send a notification message to Fire Department app users, including the victim's location and the location of the nearest Automated External Defibrillator (AED) device. The hope is that CPR-trained Good Samaritans nearby may be able to respond even more quickly than emergency services, in some cases. The San Ramon Valley Fire Department has recently launched an initative to extend the reach of the app beyond San Ramon.

For more innovative and engaging ways to use technology for disaster relief, check out NetSquared's tips on Mobilizing Online Communities in the Face of Disaster and the value of crowdsourcing for nonprofits. Also, Jim Lynch's piece about digital volunteerism and disaster relief, and Elliot Harmon's post about The Extraordinaries and Ushahidi being used in response to the Haiti earthquake.

Resources for Responders

  • S.O.S. by the American Red Cross is a free Android-only app that provides emergency medical care instructions and a resource guide for emergencies, geared at average citizens.
  • WISER, the Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders from the National Library of Medicine is a free resource for first responders to hazardous material incidents. Its searchable database includes material identification, health impacts, and recommendations for managing the incident. The WISER mobile app is available for Apple, Windows, Blackberry and Palm devices. This tool clearly has a fairly specific target audience, but it's a good example of how an app can be a useful and comprehensive resource in emergency situations.

How About You?

Can you think of ways an app would be helpful in disaster or emergency situations? Do you know of other interesting ways apps are being used? If your organization is involved in disaster or emergency response, do you use apps to help you do your work?

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Photo: Lee Maguire

by Ariel Gilbert-Knight, Director, Content, TechSoup