Did you know that smartphones can be a lifeline for you in a natural disaster? Not only will it get you the help you need, it will also make it possible to stay connected with friends and family during and after a disaster happens. The key is, as with most things, is to be prepared. You don’t want to be frantically downloading the Red Cross first aid app with 5% battery and a spotty cell connections after the power is out. Download, charge, login, set up all the devices and apps before.
- Charge your phone and any old ones
- Use low-power mode
- Install Zello, FireChat and Glympse for communication
- Download offline Google Maps
- Enable emergency push alerts
Prep your phone
Smartphones run through batteries fast. Without some restraint and backup plans, it could drain even faster during a storm when you’re constantly checking for updates.
Fully charge your main phone and any extra phones you have lying around in drawers. You could use them to call 911 or swap in your SIM card to do more. For backup power, charge any power packs you have, as well as laptops. In a pinch, you can charge a phone off of a laptop. Make sure you also have your cords ready, including one that can plug into a car — another power source.
Many newer smartphones have some level of waterproofing, but if you’re headed out into bad weather or someplace at risk of flooding, pop it in a Ziploc bag or two.
To stretch out the battery life, turn on low power mode, dim the brightness, and turn off any unnecessary notifications. You can see which apps use the most power in Settings. Close them and avoid reopening unless necessary.
After Hurricane Harvey, locals and unofficial rescue crews used some lesser known tools to locate people in need. Consider installing Zello a walkie-talkie app that lets you share audio messages and photos. You can create new channels or join existing ones — there are several already about Hurricane Florence — to communicate with others in the area and ask for help. But the free app requires a Wi-Fi or network connection (even older networks like 2G will work).
Meanwhile, FireChat is another messaging app that works without data or a signal, and instead relies on mesh networks. (But Bluetooth and W-Fi need to be turned on even if access isn’t available, according to the company).
The SCEMD has developed an emergency app that comes with pretty much all you will need for before, during and after a storm to know how to stay safe.
Glympse is a real-time location sharing app that complements Zello and FireChat. After using the apps’ messaging capabilities, Glympse users can share their exact whereabouts with rescue groups.
Finally, install a few of the Red Cross apps, which can offer first aid relief to both humans and pets.
Bookmark the basics
Go to your state emergency management or department of public safety site. Bookmark its main information page for the storm, and download any app they might have. While you are there, follow them on Twitter. Then do the same for your county and city or town.
Save your local emergency phone numbers to your phone, in case you can make phone calls but not search at a later time. Also bookmark pages for the National Hurricane Center, your local weather source, and FEMA.
Check online to see if your local 911 call centers can receive texts in an emergency. Texts can take longer to get a response, however. If you can’t get through to 911 on the phone, keep holding instead of hanging up and dialing again. If you do put out a call for help on social media, be sure to update it when you are safe.
You can also bookmark the webpages for Google’s Crisis Maps, which can show useful emergency information and shelter locations. Add CrowdSource Rescue, a site that tries to match people in need with neighbors who can help, and streamline emergency requests sent out over different social media platforms. Developed during Hurricane Harvey, the site was responsible for rescuing 25,000 in Houston, according to its creators.
And if you’re in the path of the storm and need the latest news, CNN has a “lite” version of CNN.com, with text-only versions of articles that can be more easily accessed even with a weak phone connection.
Get push alerts
Go to your phone’s settings and make sure emergency alerts are enabled for extreme threats and severe threats. The government can push these alert, which may include an evacuation order, to phones in regions via the WEA (wireless emergency alerts) system.
Stock up on maps
Maps can be a data hog. The Google Maps app lets you download entire maps for your area to your phone. On Android or iOS, search for your city and tap the more option (three dots), then tap “Download offline map.” Install the Waze navigation app if you think you’ll be driving and want to avoid unexpected road closures or accidents.