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Emergency Management Apps: A Primer

Here are the resources that are currently available for emergency managers to use in their jobs, improve personal preparedness, monitor rapidly evolving incidents and provide linkage to disaster readiness applications for their communities.

One of the biggest challenges in using mobile apps is trying to locate them. There are three virtual warehouses for users of the iPhone and iPad, Android and Blackberry smartphone operating systems. These three systems comprise the largest user market base in the United States.  

For users of the iPhone, you must visit the Apple App store using iTunes. For users of the Android operating system, you must use the Android Market.  Blackberry users also have an app store at http://us.blackberry.com/apps-software/appworld/. Each market requires a general search. You may want consider keywords like “earthquake,” “disaster,” “scanner,” “weather” and “preparedness.”

I have owned an iPhone for the past three years for work-related use but still am challenged to locate many of the existing apps. I read a lot of articles and network with my work colleagues to find them. Word of mouth seems to be the best resource for locating mobile apps for emergency preparedness. I recently purchased an Android phone for personal use and became familiar with the Android Market. Same issue here; you can’t always find the apps if you don’t really know what they are called. 

In both the Apple and Android Markets, just by using key word searches, you can locate many emergency preparedness applications. The Android Market features a good search filter, allowing users to seek free and paid apps, and those rated by popularity. Here are some of the more popular apps for Android users:

With the wide variety of apps, if the Apple “App” store has it, odds are the Android Market and Blackberry stores will probably have it too.

One good resource location for Apple-related apps is the newly established Disaster Apps for iOS, which lists itself as a crowdsourcing community, finding the best iPhone and iPad apps for emergency managers.   

Eventually this site will feature apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry systems. The Web site listed apps are broken down into several categories:

  • References to buy
  • References for free
  • Situational awareness
  • Response ops
  • Personal preparedness
  • General category

In the reference category there is:

  • NFPA-1600 – the Standard for Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs
  • NIMS ICS Guide
  • WISER (Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders)
  • Emergency Survival Handbook (ESH)
  • FEMA
  • Mobile Radiation Emergency Medical Management (REMM) – produced by the Department of Health and Human Services
  • BioAgency Facts
  • Emergency Survival Handbook (ESH)
  • First Aid – Learn the basics on how to treat minor injuries with this app, which provides a list of tips and how to deal with burns, breaks and other injuries.

In the personal preparedness category there is:

  • Disaster Ready is an iPhone/iPod Touch application you can use to create a family emergency plan.
  • “Meals, Ready-to-Eat,” or MREs – a handy reference to keep you up-to-date on information about MRE’s.
  • Disaster Preparedness Guide – Family and School Edition.
  • Survive Now – an emergency response resource.
  • IMPrepared – helps plan for disasters.
  • Disaster Survival – information on how to prepare for a disaster and what to do when one strikes, including help for children and the disabled.
  • ICE – In Case of Emergency
  • BuddyGuard – a personal security resource
  • Pocket First Aid & CPR from the American Heart Association
  • iTsunami – if you live on or near the coast, this apps for you.

In the situational awareness category there are many earthquake notification apps. You may be overwhelmed.  Having used some of these apps firsthand, I would consider apps that link to the USGS (iEarthquake, USGS Seismic, etc.) since they are using the sensor technology that monitors live earthquake activity. There are also apps for wildfire, floods (“Floodwatch”) and the American Red Cross Shelter View application. In the weather department, well again, you have a great deal of choice. There are hurricane tracking systems available to monitor current events or forecasts (Hurricane Tracker), StormTracker, the NOAA app, the Weather Channel and Accuweather.

There are also a number of live scanner feeds that allow you monitor local (city/town), county, state police, fire/sheriff and EMS activity without having to carry a portable radio or scanner. In a recent AP report, this new mobile element has created some consternation among law enforcement officials because it is very easy to monitor live public safety channels on millions of smartphones using mobile apps.   

There is Emergency Radio, 5-0 Radio, Police Scanner, Scanner911, Scanner Radio, and many others. Use “scanner” in your search and decide what will work best for your area. When you open the scanner app, you locate your state, county, and select the agency you want to monitor, and you will hear live radio feeds in just a few minutes. You’ll probably want some headphones for this one, and the radio broadcasts can be disruptive to those people around you.

One application called “Life 360” allows you to set up a virtual reunification network with your family and friends. The Life 360 app allows you to immediately track, locate and report your status in a crisis. Be careful with this one, it is a battery hog because it constantly tracks all of the people in your group, so it is memory and network intensive. A monthly test will ensure you can reunite or check the welfare of friends and loved-ones in minutes.

Your local emergency management authority may also carry a list of the local applications developed for your area and may include links to sign up for local warnings, alerts and specialized apps for your area. Check with your local emergency management office, or local police or fire authority to see what is available for your area.

In the local emergency application category, two good examples are the OCFL Alert app for residents living in Orange County, Fla., and the “Arlington Prepares” app from Arlington County’s Office of Emergency Management. Arlington prepares is available from both the Android Market  and the Apple App store.

Other local applications have been developed for universities, colleges and K-12 school districts. In my next blog, I will interview some app developers from higher education and explain the process for how apps are created (developed), approved and distributed to the various app stores.

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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With more than 30 years experience, David is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) currently administering the emergency management program at Santa Clara University in the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area's Silicon Valley. David managed the UCLA Office of Emergency Management for seven years and pioneered the development of the campus' award-winning "BruinAlert" system. David championed development of emergency plans, policies and procedures in the aftermath of Virginia Tech in 2007 and consults higher education institutions on emergency management issues. David is a subject matter expert in mass casualty incident management, emergency notification systems, comprehensive plan development, emergency organization, EOC design and operations, crisis communications, threat and vulnerability assessment, disaster recovery, grant administration and auditing. In 2009, David and other campus emergency managers provided consult in the development of the first incident management course developed by FEMA/EMI specifically for higher education (IS-100HE, Introduction to the Incident Command System (ICS) for Higher Education). Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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