Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New tools to help you get ready for disasters – socially

Just in time for hurricane season and summer’s severe weather, we’re highlighting some new electronic tools that will help you get ready for disasters.

First, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response recently announced two free Facebook apps that help people prepare for emergencies with their social networks. The bReddi Facebook app and Project: Lifeline are designed to help you identify “lifelines” in your community who you can count on during a disaster.

“We know that people who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don’t, and that every disaster has the potential to impact health, so having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster,” said Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in an HHS news release. “That’s why we are encouraging everyone to identify their lifelines in advance.”

Project: Lifeline allows you to select people from your social network that you can count on during an emergency. bReddi will help you identify severe weather risks in your area and create a preparedness plan. The app can even alert you via Twitter, text or Facebook message when the threat level changes! These Facebook apps may be especially useful after a disaster, when phone lines are often busy.

Screen capture from the new bReddi Facebook App showing a U.S. Map with local severe weather warnings.

What if you don’t use Facebook, or if you’re on the go? A national Wireless Emergency Alerts initiative was also announced last month. The new service will send a message to your cellphone if there is an emergency or disaster near you. The messages, which will look like text messages, are free, and you won’t have to sign up to receive them — everyone with text message service will receive them.  The text service will be location-based, so if you live in Chicago but are driving through Kansas during severe weather, you will get a tornado alert for your current location.

The new alert system is based on a partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and all major cellphone providers in the U.S.

Are you excited to try these new tools? Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried one of them, or if you want to recommend another app that helps you be prepared!

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