During a national disaster, contacting someone for help or checking in with loved ones to tell them that you’re safe can be tricky. Luckily, in the digital age, there are plenty of apps that can be useful during a disaster — whether you need to communicate with someone, need to check the weather, or need first aid protocol. While some of these apps are also great hacks for free messaging during international travel, many were actually developed to help people in disaster zones call for help.
As communities recover from Hurricane Ida, Fiona, and Ian, some of whom even experienced nationwide blackouts amidst devastating storms, many people might be reflecting on how to best prepare themselves and their loved ones for such emergencies.
If you or someone you know lives in an area that is prone to natural disasters, now is the time to transform your phone into your emergency toolkit. Here are some of the best emergency apps that you can use during a disaster.
Zello got a lot of buzz after being featured in the Houston Chronicle in a story about the “Cajun Navy” of volunteers who have been using the app to coordinate their efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. The app hit the top of the app store back in 2017 following the article.
However, Zello will only work with either a Wi-Fi or cellular data signal and is primarily used for volunteer networks to communicate with each other after a disaster to coordinate rescue efforts. The app basically turns your phone into a walkie-talkie so you can easily communicate with Zello other users. This is a good one to have on hand during any disaster and can help speed up rescue efforts once the storm has passed.
Zello is available for download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.
Nextdoor is a social network app that can help keep you connected to what’s going on in your neighborhood. More than 150,000 neighborhoods in the United States are on Nextdoor. If your community is on the network, you can use the app to get updates about what’s happening in your specific area, which is not only helpful during a disaster but in everyday life. However, you will need either Wi-Fi or cellular data to use Nextdoor.
Nextdoor is available for download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.
First Aid: American Red Cross
If you’re stuck in a natural disaster and unable to reach a hospital — or be reached by emergency personnel, having first aid expertise at the ready can be crucial if you or your loved ones suffer from any injuries during a disaster.
American Red Cross’s First Aid app includes first aid tips for countless emergencies, along with information regarding how to respond to disasters like hurricanes or tornadoes. The app is also fully integrated with 911, meaning you can call emergency personnel directly from the app — and can even use it to locate the nearest hospital.
One of the most useful features of the app, though, is the fact that its information is preloaded. So, if you find yourself without Wi-Fi or data, you can still use the app for first aid expertise.
First Aid: American Red Cross is available for download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.
Emergency: American Red Cross
American Red Cross’s Emergency app provides real-time alerts about climate-affected hazards in your area. The app also offers an offline selection of emergency resources that you can reference even if you don’t have Wi-Fi or data.
Emergency: American Red Cross is available for download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s official app focuses on three main spheres of emergency assistance: planning, protecting, and recovering. The app can assist in preparations, like what kind of emergency toolkits to prepare for certain emergencies in advance; real-time weather updates during an emergency event; and recovery resources like how to locate a Disaster Recover Center.
The FEMA app is available for download for free on the App Store and Google Play Store.
No Data Or Wi-Fi Needed To Call 911
You can use any cellphone to call or text 911 even without an active cellphone plan, USA TODAY reports. However, once winds reach 55 mph, emergency services can no longer respond to calls. Once the storm is over, you can contact 911 with your cell phone.
“After winds reach 55 mph, firetrucks will blow over and we have to take shelter,” Timothy Heiser, deputy chief of Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, told the Sun Sentinel. “We’ll be out as long as we can until it’s too dangerous to respond.”
Additionally, officials urge residents to use 911 — not Twitter — to ask for help, and to report emergencies. “Once we get the all clear and can go out again, we’ll respond to those stacked calls,” Heiser explained. “If everybody loads up on social media, there is a danger of duplicate calls that could divert responders from emergencies.”
Because you could be waiting for an extended period of time for help during a disaster after you call 911, it’s a good idea to download some of the above disaster apps if you need immediate assistance. Additionally, if you don’t have a waterproof phone case you might want to put your phone in a Ziploc bag, or wrap it in plastic wrap, to keep it safe from water damage.
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