Surviving Hurricanes in Digital Age
With hurricane season quickly approaching, there’s never been a better time to refresh your memory on easy precautions that can be taken before preventable damage is done. Preparing yourself before a storm is key and in the digital age, there are so many useful apps that come in handy before, during, and after a hurricane. Downloading resourceful apps that assist in the fields of shelter, communication, supplies, etc., can save you time, money, and maybe even a life.
A great app that revolves around the idea of immediate assistance is Crowdsource Rescue. The app aids in rescue efforts through the concept of “neighbors rescuing neighbors” when emergency phone lines, such as 9-1-1, get overwhelmed. Developed by Matthew Marchetti and Nate Larson, the ideals behind the app were created when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston at such a quick and alarming pace; professional first-responders and vetted volunteers were not able to respond to victims of the hurricane as quickly as needed. The app uses GPS tracking and allows civilian volunteers, such as those who have a boat, to sign in and help evacuate others in the area.
With regards to shelter, a resourceful app created in 2017 after hurricanes Harvey and Irma is Harmany. The app connects people in need of temporary shelters with those who want to provide it during emergencies and evacuation events. On the app, hosts can easily turn on and off their shelter spaces and evacuees can perform a “shelter search” to find the best places that suit their needs. Harmany also provides in-app alerts and notifications for severe weather, fire, and other dangerous events. Airbnb, a well-known app based around the idea of vacations and weekend trips, actually comes in handy for hurricanes as well. Through a program called OpenHomes, Airbnb allows hosts to offer extra space for free to those in need of temporary housing. Airbnb activated the OpenHomes program in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia in the wake of Hurricane Florence, but is now available in many more locations. Airbnb also helps hosts for any property damage and phone support.
There are four primary apps that provide necessary updates regarding hurricanes: Weather Underground, FEMA, Hurricane by the American Red Cross, and iHeartRadio. Weather Underground provides hyper-local forecasts and current conditions from local weather stations with customizable alerts. The app also allows users to report local weather and hazards to help inform others in the community. The app features a map interface which is interactive, allowing users to choose different layers to view elements such as rain accumulation, crowd reports, and satellite images. You can track storms through Weather Underground as well.
The FEMA app provides real-time alerts from the National Weather Service and helps users locate emergency shelters and disaster recovery centers. You can receive various safety tips to stay safe during a natural disaster and register for disaster assistance online. In addition to being available in both English and Spanish, the app allows users to share photos through FEMA’s disaster reporter.
Hurricane by the American Red Cross allows users to monitor the conditions in their area and let family and friends know that they’re safe and secure through the use of a customizable alert through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, or text. The app includes a map where users can track the hurricane’s path and find Red Cross shelters in the area. If you don’t have the ability to connect through Wi-Fi or any other means, the app still provides step-by-step instructions of what to do before, during, and after the storm. The app also comes with a Hurricane Toolkit with a strobe light, flashlight, and audible alerts.
Finally, iHeartRadio allows users to follow along with local news and radio stations to gather updates or access broadcasts as long as service is available.
Communication is imperative during hurricane season and with so many apps to choose from, it’s a good idea to download one or all depending on predicted conditions.
FireChat allows users to message other users regardless of cell service and internet availability. The free messaging app relies on mesh networks, however, Bluetooth and WiFi must still be turned on, even if access is not available. Through FireChat, you can create private groups with up to 50 people or create public chat rooms using hashtags. Zello, a push-to-talk app, functions like a walkie-talkie, allowing users to communicate without channel limits. Whenever WiFi or data service is available, the app can be used like a two-way radio, granting communication between family members or rescuers.
A locally driven app that keeps users informed about their neighborhood and connects them with their neighbors is Nextdoor. The app provides a secure environment where all neighbors are verified and can discuss evacuation routes, flood levels, or ask for help when other emergency communication methods may be down.
Apps such as WhatsApp, Glympse, and local news apps can also offer much-needed communication when necessary. WhatsApp connects to the internet to send messages between phones, as well as allows for free voice and video calls. Glympse, a real-time location-sharing app, allows users to share their exact whereabouts with others such as rescue groups. Local news apps (WUNC for example) can give updates and vital information regarding the storm.
GasBuddy, an app that is normally used to find the closest and cheapest gas stations in the area, comes in handy with a recently activated fuel availability tracker. Residents in affected hurricane areas can find gas more easily, and the tracker can differentiate between stations that have no power, limited fuel options, or simply no fuel as opposed to those that have both fuel and power.
Red Cross offers a variety of apps that can be useful during hurricanes and other natural disasters. In addition to their hurricane app, it has a flood app that educates people on how to prepare for floods. In case of injury, they also have a first aid app that informs users on how to handle common first aid emergencies as well as an app for pet emergencies.
If you’re on the move and are looking to let people know when you’ve arrived somewhere safely, Life360 can track your movements and automatically send texts to those you’d like to alert once you’ve reached your destination.
ICE Standard, is an app that “allows the user to fill out their medical information, such as insurance information and blood type, so first responders know how to treat them.”
If relaxation is needed in the wake of the storm, Headspace: Meditation allows you to relieve stress and stay calm. The app provides guided meditation sessions and includes an SOS feature for moments of panic, anxiety, or stress. While the app does come with a free trial before charging a subscription fee, a free alternative is the mindfulness app, Calm. Calm includes over 100 guided meditations and music geared to help you focus, relax, and sleep.
Home Inventory Checklist is a great tool to make the claims process easier after a hurricane. Using the app, you can create a home inventory of your belongings and information (such as brand name, price, purchase date, etc.,) can be logged as well as photos. The app allows you to store copies of your insurance policies with your home inventory as well. For Androids, download the app here.
It is also extremely important to begin your claims process as soon as possible so make sure to have your insurance company’s name, claims phone number, and policy number readily available. As a reminder, the initial contact will not be with the person who will handle the claim; the adjuster assigned to your claim will contact you soon after.
Staying safe during hurricane season is of the utmost importance, and with the wide variety of free apps available for download, there’s never been a more convenient way to stay cautious. Listed below are important phone numbers that can be stored in your phone for future use.
Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness
National Weather Service Forecast Office
(New Orleans/Baton Rouge) – 504-522-7330
(Lake Charles) – 337-477-5285
Louisiana State Police
225-925-6325 or *LSP from any cell phone
Louisiana Attorney General Hurricane Hotline
American Red Cross
1-866-GET- INFO (1-866-438-4636)
Power Outages: 1-800-9OUTAGE (1-800-968-8243)
Washington St. Tammany Electric Cooperative
Power Outages: 1-866-672-9773