Smartphones and mobile broadband networks can’t protect us against natural disasters – like Hurricane Sandy, which battered the East Coast of the US on Monday night – but it can help prepare us, making citizens as informed as possible before, during and after a crisis situation. Here are a few innovative examples of how these technologies are helping citizens on the East Coast get through one of the worst hurricanes in history.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is among many city, state and national agencies providing continuous advice and alerts to citizens via their Twitter feed (@FEMA). Citizens, who have been asked to save valuable network capacity by limiting mobile voice calls and staying in contact with loved ones through social media and SMS messages, can also use FEMA’s smartphone app, which offers safety tips, emergency meeting location information, and a map with open shelters. The Red Cross has its own Hurricane App, which offers preparedness tips, updates citizens on conditions in their area and allows them to find help.
Other mobile sites are illustrating the simple ways in which mobile technology can help citizens by offering preparatory tips, like ensuring that mobile phones were fully charged before the hurricane hit, and using flashlight apps that would help users affected by power outages. Other sites recommended forwarding landlines to cell phones, downloading weather and news apps ahead of the storm, and backing up vital data in the cloud. All of this advice is valuable but perhaps the biggest benefit provided by these mobile technologies is that we are well prepared and informed before a natural disaster hits. The most dangerous situation is one in which citizens do not heed advice and mandates from government agencies.
In a hurricane as large as Sandy, mobile networks are vulnerable because of their dependence on outdoor antennas and a continuous power supply. Let us hope that the networks will be able to withstand the harsh conditions and continue to provide support to affected citizens.