When a storm threatens, everybody will face similar challenges to be prepared and to keep in touch with family, friends, and coworkers. The infrastructure of wireline and wireless communication services in certain regions is vulnerable, especially evident in the disaster impacts from Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern U.S., including flooding, downed power lines and cell sites.
Can you be better prepared to receive or send emergency information in a storm? Everybody can be better prepared to communicate in a storm by knowing your mobile device capabilities and specific apps for emergencies and group communication.
Text Messaging: The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA) recommends sending text messages because these require less bandwidth and are more reliable. Avoid voice calls because they overload the system and you may not get through. CTIA recommends keeping voice call usage for safety professionals as much as possible.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): Emergency alerts will be transmitted by your wireless carriers and the latest software updates should include this capability. Contact your carrier or check the CTIA registry to ensure you receive emergency alerts. No charges will apply to your mobile phone services.
Travelers: When you're not home, you can receive location-based emergency alerts. You can also check on storm conditions back home.
The following list of frequently used messaging services and apps can help you get prepared and stay connected in the event of a storm.
The free Red Cross Hurricane app enables you to track a storm, receive location based alerts, and access Red Cross shelters in your area. You can broadcast messages to family and friends via social media outlets even when the power is out. The app comes equipped with a flashlight, strobe, and audible alarm. Critical action steps are preloaded and available without wireless access to help you know what to do in a storm. The Red Cross app is available for iOS and Android devices.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) of the U.S. Government offers a smartphone or tablet app. You can obtain helpful information to prepare for a storm, how to register with FEMA after a disaster, and view maps of shelters and disaster recovery centers across the U.S. FEMA’s app is available for iOS, Android, and Blackberry devices.
FEMA is also offering a two-way text message service. The list of available text responses include:
- To receive monthly disaster updates: Text PREPARE to 43362
- To find shelters: Text SHELTER plus your zip code to 43362
Note: For local availability of emergency management shelters, contact the agency.
- To find nearest disaster recovery centers: Text DRC plus your zip code to 43362
You can set up volunteer groups for your neighborhood or city using any one of several group productivity apps. In particular, Wiggio offers free text messaging, as well as voice and video messaging. You will only have to collect phone numbers and email addresses to sign up neighborhood volunteers.
On your smartphone or cell phone, families, neighbors, and coworkers can set up group message lists to keep in touch before, during, and after storms. You may have to turn on the group messaging feature in the settings for messages. Some wireless carriers offer free texting, so be sure to check what your plan allows. My family started a group message throughout Hurricane Sandy that was really helpful in providing comfort, tips, and storm stories. Check your device for specific group messaging settings.
Mchat is a free chat app for your phone. You can connect to people on Facebook chat through your phone, or you can connect to people you know on mChat, which is available on iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows, and Symbian devices.