In Case of Emergency...20 Apps, Programs and Technologies for Disaster Preparedness

Maximum PC Staff

It’s only a matter of time.

No matter whether we’re talking about a natural disaster like the recent earthquake and consequent tsunami in Japan, or the epic man made idiocy associated with last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, disasters will strike, and when they do there’s precious little any of us can do about it. All anyone can do—from individuals citizens right up the crisis management food chain to the very top levels of government—is to plan for the worst and hope for the best.  That said, when it comes to protecting your family and loved ones it’s better to do a lot of planning so that you can afford to keep the hoping to a minimum. Not sure where to start? No worries. Maximum PC has put together a list of tips, technologies and gadgets to help to help you weather any storm—man made or otherwise—as stress-free and comfortably as possible.

Got some better ideas? Take 'em to the comments!

An Ounce of Prevention...

Mike Tyson said that everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. When it comes to emergency preparation, that jab to the cake-hole can come in many forms. Your disaster preparedness plan won’t be able to anticipate everything that could possibly happen in such a big, dangerous world but we all know the rule about the ounce of prevention, right?  It used to be that planning for an emergency situation and stockpiling supplies was the domain of government officials and conspiracy-crazed survivalists, with much of the information on continuity planning and disaster survival advice relegated to some of the seedier locales of the internet.

Fortunately, since suffering the embarrassment and loss of human life that came from being underprepared for Hurricane Katrina, America’s state and federal agencies have seriously upped their game, bringing disaster preparedness into the mainstream.  If you’re new to emergency preparedness, Ready America is an excellent resource to start with. The website offers a wide range of resources for developing your own disaster preparedness plan including helpful tips, downloadable PDF checklists, and an Online Emergency Planning Tool that can be printed off and put to use as soon as you’ve completed it.

After you’ve created your emergency plan, you may still feel ill-equipped to deal with a disaster situation. If so, there’s no better way to prepare to be prepared than by looking up the closest chapter of Citizen Corps . Conceptualized after the the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Citizen Corps was launched in 2002 as a community-centric resource for disaster response and provides educational materials, seminars and assistance to individual citizens and volunteer community groups who want to gain a better understanding of how to safeguard their homes, neighborhoods and communities in the face of a disaster.

Another essential site is which will help you make an emergency plan, put together a disaster kit and give you advice on what to do in a variety of situations from earthquakes and flooding to evacuation and contagiuos diseases.  The only thing they don't cover is the zombie apocalypse, and there are plenty of other resources for that . Yet another worthwhile site is StuffSafe which can help you inventory your home by storing photos, descriptions and information about your belongings. It's web-based, and free - as is the similar site Know Your Stuff from the Insurance Information Instititute. While an inventory of your gear isn't going to be essential to keeping you safe after a disaster, it is going to make it easier to put the pieces back together once everything starts to settle down.

Turning to your iOS or Android powered smartphone is also an option. On the Android side of things, iAppThat’s Are You Ready application is a wealth of emergency planning information that fits in the palm of you hand.

It’s worth noting that despite its rocking the FEMA logo, the application is not officially endorsed by FEMA. All the same, it allows for access to FEMA’s YouTube channel videos, emergency planning checklists and a wide variety of disaster-specific information for everything from coping with the aftermath of tornadoes on through to nuclear blasts. For iPhone users, phoneflips’ $1.99 Disaster Readiness app is a great option. While most of the information included in the application can be found through multiple sources online, phoneflips has gone through the trouble of compiling a treasure trove of disaster planning and mitigation information in one easy to browse, offline location.

In the event that you lose access to the internet or a cellular connection during the course of a prolonged emergency, this is one app you’ll be thankful to have on your phone. Just remember to figure out how to charge your smartphone without any electricity. (More on that in a bit).

There are a slew of additional apps for disaster preparedness for both Android and iOS-based phones - Android users can check out Disaster Alert by PDC which gives real-time alerts on active hazards around the world, and Scanner Radio Pro which allows you to peruse the databases of police, fire, EMS and coast guard transit radio. iOS users can find a similar service in the Emergency Radio app, and everyone can grab the Pocket First Aid & CPR app.

Communication is Key

As much as we’d like to think that disaster will strike with everyone we care about under one roof, it’s not a realistic scenario. People go to work, they shop; they head out on a Friday night to dance the boogaloo (electric or otherwise). When an emergency situation occurs, your first priority after seeing your own way to safety will no doubt be to find out whether your family and loved ones are safe. Unfortunately, this will also be the first thought of every one else in the area effected by the emergency. This typically results in a massive flood of calls to and from cellular phones, often bringing the network to its knees. The same can be said for landlines. To accommodate for this, your disaster preparedness plan should include provisions for communicating with one another if you end up being separated when the going gets crazy.

Your first and most valuable communications option is as low tech as it gets: Sit down and make a plan with the folks you want to stay in touch with about how exactly you’ll stay in touch should a disaster occur in your area. Cell phones and landlines should be considered a first, best option, provided you’ve got the power and network connections to use either one. For cell phone users this is as simple as making sure your battery is fully charged before leaving the house in the morning. If you’re using a landline, things can be a little more complicated. The majority of landline telephones being used today—be it a multi-line Cisco-engineered monster at your office, or a cordless handset at home, or VOIP units—require electricity from a secondary power source in order to operate. That’s bad news if the disaster you’ve just survived managed to knock out the electricity for your area. Fortunately, older style corded handsets aren’t hampered by the same power requirements.

These landline handsets operate on a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) system, which sees them powers the telephone via a −48V Direct Current connection fed into to it by the telephone cord coming out of your wall. That means so long as the phone lines are up, you should be able to make and receive calls. Should you be lucky enough to have landline or cellular service, you still may not be able to make any local calls, due to system congestion. For this reason, many sources, including those cited earlier in this article, suggest pre-arranging an out of area number for you and all of your loved ones to contact in the event that you are separated. (You can also set up a Google Voice number to ring multiple family members at once).

Your long distance contact can be used to relay important information to and from the other individuals participating in your disaster preparedness plan, such as letting you know they’re safe or allowing you to plan for a secondary rendezvous point if returning home is not an option. Cellphone users may also want to consider sending SMS messages instead of calling, as a text message may be able to find its way past local congestion to its intended recipient where conventional voice calls fail. It's also probably worth noting where those few, lingering payphones are in your area.

In the event that you’re unable to reconnect with your loved ones, you have a few avenues open to you. If your home internet connection or smartphone are up and running, you’ll want to check out Google Person Finder . Most recently used in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami this past April, Google People Finder provides a forum for individuals seeking out their lost loved ones in the wake of a disaster, as well as a message board for anyone that has come across information regarding the whereabouts of a missing or unknown person. The International Committee of the Red Cross has a similar service called FamilyLinks .

If your internet connection’s stable enough to load Google People Finder, it’ll also no doubt be able to load local news services, or the webpage for your regional or municipal government, to receive instructions on where to gather for assistance or shelter should you requite it. Additionally, your far-flung friends and family will no doubt appreciate it if you hopped on Facebook to let them know you’re alive and well. Last but not least, let’s not forget about Twitter—the current web-based King of up to the minute first hand crisis information, as we’ve seen during the uprisings in the Middle East in recent months and in the hours after this month’s tornadoes in the midwest.

If power and internet are a no-go, your best bet for staying on top of the situation in your area is to use an multi-band radio. Since our readers deserve only the very best, we recommend something among the lines of TK Eton’s Solarlink FR600 TK, which can be powered by AAA batteries, and AC adapter, hand crank or solar power. If that’s not enough for you, the FR600 also incorporates a flashlight and USB cellphone charging outlet.

Astronaut Food & MREs

According to the USDA, with no electricity to power it, your refrigerator will only be able to keep food inside of it chilled for between four to six hours, depending on how many times you open its door. If your freezer is full, the food inside of it should remain frozen for upwards of two days, provided you don’t open the freezer door frequently. With that in mind, we’d like to throw another figure at you: Sources such as the Red Cross and FEMA suggest that as part of your emergency preparedness plan, you should maintain a 72 hour supply of food and water for every member of your household—pets and in-laws included. That’s 24 more hours than your formerly frosty appliances can afford. Canned goods are an option, but in the event that you need to leave your home in the name of personal safety, a three-day supply of SPAM and creamed corn can really weigh you down. Fortunately, there are a number of lightweight, nutritious, tech-savvy alternatives available for your emergency noshing pleasure.

Let’s start with dehydrated and freeze-dried foods. As the their names suggests, dehydrated foods are edibles that have had the moisture removed from them. By removing the moisture, the ability for micro organisms to grow on the foodstuffs is greatly reduced. When sealed in an air-tight container with oxygen absorbing materials, the shelf life of dehydrated products can be extended up to a maximum of 30 years, depending on storage conditions. More than this, the removal of a food’s moisture content also drastically reduces it’s carry weight. That sort of longevity and heft along with the fact that dehydrated good require no refrigeration makes dehydrated goods a perfect addition to anyone’s emergency preparations plan.

When it comes to finding dehydrated or freeze dried goods online, consumers are spoiled for choice. Just enter either into Google as a search term, and you’ll be shopping in no time. In most cases when dealing with dehydrated foods, you’re going to need a method to heat it before serving. In an emergency situation where using your home’s electric or gas range isn’t a safe or available cooking option, it’s a no-brainer for most of us to turn to using a BBQ or a propane camp stove if either are available.

If the nature of the disaster you’re faced with calls for you to pick up and go as quickly as possible, however, it’s unlikely that you’ll be hauling your backyard grill along with you. Multi-fuel stoves, are a great lightweight alternative with some units weighing under 25 ounces, and capable of burning white gas, unleaded gasoline or kerosine.

Another awesome emergency dining option are MREs, which stands for Meal Ready to Eat. Designed by the United States military, MREs first made their way into general use back in the early 1990s and have been a staple of life in the field ever since. MREs are available for purchase by civilians across North America, online and in many serious outdoor lifestyle stores. MREs offer over 120 entrees to choose from as well as a wide variety of side dishes. They’re even available in vegetarian, Halal and Kosher configurations.

Each MRE comes with with a Flameless Ration Heater, or FRH. The FRH is a plastic bag filled with a small amount of table salt, iron and magnesium powders, which when combined with a bit of water can act to heat an eight ounce MRE entree to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 12 minutes.

Water World

In am emergency situation, nothing is more important to your well-being than clean drinking water. It’s recommended that each adult included in your emergency preparedness plan drink a minimum of two litres of drinking water per day. If the disaster you’re facing has polluted or nullified your areas water supply, you’ll need to take matters into your own hands. One great option is water packets. Small, lightweight and packable, packaged water is an excellent solution to your emergency hydration needs. It’s worth mentioning that while these airtight beauties work like a charm, they do have a shelf life, and will have to be replaced on occasion.

With this being the case, you may also want to consider a portable water filtration system for inclusion in your emergency kit. Buying a portable water filter effectively removes the issue of unportable water from the equation, meaning that even if your packaged H2O is well past it’s expiration date, it can still be filtered and safely consumed until a clean water supply becomes available.

If only the highest of high-tech gadgets will do for you in your time of need, then we want to be in your emergency camp. Also, you’ll want to consider picking up a SteriPEN , which instead of filtering your water, kills up to 99.9% of all waterborn bacteria making even the most questionable glass of water safe to drink.

No matter what options you choose to round out your emergency preparedness plans, you're making the right choice. After all, any planning that you do to mitigate the emotional or physical damage that a man made or natural catastrophy could have on you and your loved ones is worthwhile, and if nothing else, better than doing nothing while you hope for the best.

Around the web