When nature unleashes it's fury on your part of the world, it's of course a fantastic idea to lay in all the emergency supplies recommended by the authorities. But sometimes when it comes to disasters, it's not clean water or boarded up windows that will save you. It's information.
As gargantuan and unpredictable hurricane Irma is illustrating so terrifyingly this week, the course of a disaster can shift rapidly, so that you and your loved ones' survival may hinge on getting the most up-to-date information on where to go, what dangers to watch out for, and how to call for help if things really get hairy.
These apps can help and should be as much a part of your family's disaster preparedness kit as a flashlight and first aid supplies.
This "digital walkie talkie app has become the top downloaded app as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida and the southern Atlantic seaboard," reports the UK's Daily Mail. Here's a useful explainer of how to use the app to keep in touch during a disaster, courtesy of Business Insider.
2. ICE Standard
Another thoughtful suggestion from the Daily Mail, this app "allows the user to fill out their medical information, such as insurance information and blood type, so first responders know how to treat them."
"With floodwaters at four feet and rising, a family in Houston, Texas abandoned their possessions and scrambled to their roof during Hurricane Harvey to sit with their pets and await rescue. Unable to reach first responders through 911 and with no one visible nearby, they used their cellphones to send out a call for help through... Nextdoor," reports The Conversation. "Within an hour a neighbor arrived in an empty canoe."
"Harris County Sheriff's Office and Houston Police Department have used Nextdoor to post mandatory evacuation orders, links to flood maps, lists of open shelters, instructions on connecting with first responders for rescues if needed and calls for volunteers with boats to help individuals who are stranded," adds the blog.
You can't get out of the way of an impending disaster if your car runs out of gas, so consider downloading GasBuddy if you'll be hitting the road. That way you'll always be able to locate the nearest working gas pump despite the weather and the congestion.
Don't have a car of your own? This carpooling app might be able to connect you with neighbors who have a free seat in theirs. It was used that way during Hurricane Harvey, the Daily Mail notes.
6. Red Cross Apps
The venerable relief organization offers a number of useful apps including one called First Aid that, you guessed it, offers basic first aid instructions, and Pet First Aid which does the same thing for furry family members. They also have specific apps for various types of disasters that will provide you with the latest alerts as well as advice on how to prepare.
"The Red Cross app also downloads vital information to your phone so you can access it even if cell towers are down," points out The Dallas Morning News.
7. FEMA App
LIke the Red Cross, FEMA has a wealth of experience in dealing with all sorts of disasters. They share it with the public via their app, including information about shelter locations and a function that allows members of the public to post pictures that might be helpful to first responders.
8. Facebook Safety Check
Save your more distant friends and family a whole lot of stress by marking yourself safe on Facebook's Safety Check feature. It can also help you keep tabs on nearby loved ones to make sure they're riding out the disaster in safely.
Or, if you're on the move and want to let a bunch of folks known when you've arrived somewhere safely, try Life360, which will track your movements and automatically send texts to those you'd like to alert when you reach your destination. Chances are great you'll be exhausted after the ordeal of evacuating and won't want to get in touch with a dozen people yourself.
Yes, really. "Snapchat is turning out to be a major resource for people trying to keep tabs on what's happening on the ground in Houston," writes Mashable's Karissa Bell. "Snapchat users are turning to Snap Maps to keep tabs on flooding and other damage.... Introduced earlier this year, Snapchat's Snap Maps overlays publicly-posted Snaps onto a map so others can view what's happening."
Just don't forget to charge your phone before the disaster strikes because none of these apps will help you much once you run out of battery. Portable and car chargers can be a great way to keep your phone juiced up even if the power goes out.