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Disaster Management Apps: 9 Features That Save Lives

When disaster strikes, apps save lives. We've experienced the social impact disaster management apps can have first hand through our work with The Red Cross. Here are the top nine features that we believe can make mobile apps help during a crisis.

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9 App Features That Save Lives During Natural Disasters:

  1. Prepare app users with advice on disaster preparedness
  2. Using maps that track natural disasters in real-time
  3. Planning for evacuations and emergencies
  4. Monitoring locations and specific hazards
  5. Sending safety alerts, notifications and messages
  6. Building a resilient and robust platform
  7. Localising content, information and services
  8. Making people your biggest asset
  9. Using external data sources

How do disaster management apps save lives?

When Mother Nature hits with great force, there’s usually very little anyone can do to stop her. Natural disasters can be truly devastating and terrifying phenomenons to experience. I mean, what can anyone really do to stop a hurricane or an earthquake?

That’s where disaster management technology can come to the rescue, not only responding to emergencies and disasters when they happen but preparing communities, by educating them on the best ways to prepare for the inevitable. One of the most effective ways we’ve seen this done is with a mobile app.

In all our time working with disaster preparedness and management organisations, we’ve experienced first hand the impact apps can truly have, and the sheer number of lives they have the potential to save.

One such organisation is The Red Cross, check out how they respond to disasters:

The Red Cross Emergency app.

Emergency developed by 3 Sided Cube for The Red Cross is a disaster management platform that was put to the test during Hurricane Harvey and Irma late last year. Together the storms caused the worst flooding disaster in U.S history. But thanks to the Red Cross, many lives were saved through relief workers, shelters and the Emergency app that people were relying on.

As the hurricane hit, people were using the app to track the storm, get alerts if they were in danger, and plan evacuation routes in worst-case scenarios. To put things into perspective, the app had 75 million server requests for emergency information during the hurricane.

Having experienced something of this scale, I feel as though there’s a real opportunity to make an impact and help save more lives during times of catastrophe. Take a quick glance at the app below before we get started on the life-saving features:

Download Emergency: Android / iOS

Feature 1) Prepare users with advice beforehand

How do you prepare for a disaster?

Imagine hearing the sound of a hurricane siren… How terrifying must it be to KNOW that a disaster is about to hit and that you and your family are in immediate danger.

What could be worse?

Not being prepared. There are a number of ways you can prepare for a hurricane that people have learnt and shared throughout their communities over the years. It’s this education and understanding which has arguably been the biggest life-saver before technology allowed us to do the same thing on a vastly larger scale.

That’s why it’s so, so important that disaster management apps include advice on what to do BEFORE the disaster strikes. It could be a fact file, a quiz, a survival game… as long as people are engaged and learning, it’ll save lives.

Emergency App Pepare Feature

Choose the disaster you want to prepare for. Before, during and after it hits. Get the most important information and tips on how to stay safe.

Feature 2) Maps to track hazards in real-time

How do you track disasters?

What question would you ask if I told you that a tornado is going to hit soon? If ‘how soon?’ Isn’t your first, it must be a close second. Having the ability to track disasters in real-time means that you can know when and where the disaster is going to hit.

And this isn’t just the ‘eye of the storm’ either, there are many other hazards that follow disasters, flooding and power cuts are two that come to mind. Having this knowledge means that you could be sure that the right preparations were put into place before danger arrives.

Emergency App Disaster Tracking

Filter the map based on types of hazards and see where the storm is right now, and more importantly, where it’s heading.

Feature 3) Evacuation and safety planning

What's the best way to plan an evacuation?

We don’t blame you for not having an answer… We probably wouldn’t have one either. But in worst case scenarios, which are often all too real, you might have to face evacuating your town before a disaster strikes in order to get to safety.

Worse yet, picture having to evacuate your home in the middle of a disaster. Definitely not “plan A” but if your home is being devastated and is no longer safe, you don’t really have a choice.

That’s why in times like these, being able to check your location on a real map really does save lives. That way you can have an evacuation plan in place so that if the worst does happen, you can get to your nearest emergency shelter as quickly and safely as possible.

Emergency App Evacuations

Make a plan to find/meet friends and family. And find you’re nearest Red Cross shelter in case you need to evacuate.

Feature 4) Location monitoring and hazard alerts

How do you know that disaster is about to strike?

As you’re probably thinking, you can’t.

Unfortunately we’re yet to develop a sixth sense that alerts us when we’re in immediate danger. Luckily, apps can do just that. Emergency alerts save lives by letting people know when they need to get to a safe area, or prepare themselves for the hazards that they will be experiencing imminently.

A terrifying concept to think about, receiving an alert that you’re in immediate danger. But imagine how grateful you’d be to have even a few extra minutes to get yourself prepared.

Emergency App Hazard Alerts

Monitor specific locations for hazards. Set an alert radius and decide on which types of dangers you want to monitor.

Feature 5) Location sharing and safety notifications

Making sure your family is safe.

In the aftermath of an earthquake chaos and fear can set in quickly. But once you’ve made sure you’re safe and in the clear, your family and friends are the first people you think about. Imagine how worrying it must be to know that your family could be seriously injured or worse.

This doesn’t have to be a problem and is in fact quite a simple problem to solve. Being able to send personalised messages with the touch of a button to anyone in your contact list, that’s how we can quickly and easily put our family’s minds at ease knowing that everyone is safe and okay.

Emergency App Safety Feature

Edit personal messages, share your location and reach out to people in your contact list.

Feature 6) Resilience and reliability

How do you make sure your app doesn't crash?

I don’t like to think about it. Or contemplate the consequences of an emergency app going down during a disaster. People will be relying on your app to get themselves to safety, that’s why keeping their life-line alive is by far THE most important thing to do.

When disasters hit it’s obvious to say that traffic to your app will increase, but when hundreds of thousands of people are relying on your app to help them, the pressure can get intense and often too much for many servers to handle.

A live app keeps people alive.

Hazards Platform: Requests-to-server (per minute) on the 26th of August 2017; during the peak of the storms.

Feature 7) Localise information and service information

App translation VS localisation.

Translating an app for users in different locations is often as far as developers will go.

And you’d think this was an obvious feature that’s easily covered, but it’s a little more complicated than that. Even within countries that speak the same language, things like terms, phrases and information can be completely different.

Emergency service numbers, for example, the last thing you’d want during a disaster is to hit the emergency services button and not get through.

Making sure your app is easy to use and easy to understand FOR EVERYONE, it will make sure the disaster preparedness app can save lives when it matters the most.

App Translation VS Localisation
Feature 8) People power and hazard alert sharing

People are your biggest asset!

Speaking of data, your users can be one of your most valuable sources.

By sending user alerts and checking which dangers and hazards they are experiencing, we can record this information and then do the same thing within a ten-mile radius.

This way you can begin to map out the areas that different hazards are affecting, building a ‘heat-map’ which can be used to geo-locate emergency alerts and notifications.

That’s chained crowdsourcing, extremely valuable in not only generating data, but also confirming it.

Chained Crowdsourcing

A visualisation of chained crowdsourcing. Showing how users reporting hazards can be used to map out an affected area.

Feature 9) Make external data reliable and useful

Which data sources should you use?

Obviously, data is extremely important when it comes to disaster management. Think about things like weather, users or location-based information.

In the case of disasters, incorrect data can lead to life-threatening situations.

Use a range of data sources to make sure that the information your app is providing is as accurate as possible. A few of these sources include:

To name but a few.

Disaster Management Data Sources

Let's recap...

Disaster management apps provide the opportunity to save countless lives in the face of natural disasters.

If the right steps are taken, and the right features included, we can innovate the way people prepare for, deal with and recover from catastrophes.

Making a social impact on a global scale is not something that either app developers or disaster management organisations can achieve alone.

We need to come together, discuss and feedback on our ideas and innovations to save as many lives as possible.

Published on April 24, 2018, last updated on November 19, 2018

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