Friday, February 01, 2013

Get your mobile phone disaster-ready

According to the American Red Cross, more Americans are using social media and apps during disasters. Mobile phone apps and social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter are now tied as the fourth most popular way to find information in an emergency, after TV, radio and the Internet.

Cellphones, smartphone apps and social media tools are especially useful during disasters when phone lines are down and power is out. That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency is focusing its 2013 Resolve to be Ready campaign on including these technologies in your emergency preparedness plans. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Mobile phones: The following tips are useful for any type of cellphone:
  • Add “ICE” contacts to your phone. ICE, or in case of emergency, contacts will help first responders get in touch with your loved ones if an emergency happens. It’s a good idea to add a local ICE contact and one that lives out-of-state to your phone’s list of contacts. 

  • Text — don’t call — when phones are busy. Phone lines are often busy during and after emergencies as many people try to contact loved ones, but oftentimes texts can get through. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to send text messages. 

  • Find out if you can get Wireless Emergency Alerts on your phone. FEMA and many U.S. cellphone carriers have teamed up to create a system for Wireless Emergency Alerts. These are messages sent to your phone just like text messages, only they contain emergency information. These could be sent during disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes or terrorist attacks. You don’t need to sign up for these alerts — they are automatically sent to most cellphones. To check and see if you can receive these messages on your phone, visit the Wireless Emergency Alerts website.

Smart phones: Can you access the Internet or download apps on your phone? Here are some more ideas to use your phone to get ready:

  • Download emergency apps. If you have a smartphone, there are many apps you can download that can be very useful in an emergency. The American Red Cross has created apps to help people during earthquakes, hurricanes and wildfires. The organization also has a first aid app and an app to help you find a local shelter during a disaster. You can find more information about these apps (and get them for free!) on the Red Cross website.

  • Use social media to let friends and family know you’re safe. In a recent survey, Red Cross found that 76 percent of Americans use social media to check in with friends and family after an emergency. Posting a simple message such as “There was a tornado in my neighborhood — power is out but we are OK” on your Facebook or Twitter account can help let people know that you are safe. 

  • Find local emergency information online. Check Facebook and Twitter to see if your local government, fire or police and local Red Cross chapters have set up accounts and follow them before an emergency happens. On a national level, you can also follow organizations such as FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other trusted sources. APHA’s list of national and regional emergency preparedness Twitter users is a good start. And don’t forget to follow @GetReady on Twitter!

  • Reminder: While these sources are great, if you are in a life-threatening situation, remember to always call 911 first.

Do you have any other tips for preparing with your mobile phone? Do you have another emergency app you think we should know about? Let us know in the comments!

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