Smartphones and Apps Connecting People in Emergency Situations with First-Responders More Quickly

As we have seen through the massive recent damage caused by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, existing first responder networks may not always have the capacity to serve everyone’s needs during a crisis. This uncertainty has brought about a variety of smartphone applications and platforms that should be considered in an emergency situation. Nextdoor, an app which describes itself as a private social network for your neighborhood, was used to assist one stranded family in Houston. Within an hour of a help message through the application, a neighbor with a boat was able to take the family to safety. Nextdoor and other social networking apps like it, have been used as crisis response applications; connecting people in need with appropriate resources such as medical supplies and food, and assisting with  emergency responseby providing more rapid, localized assessments of damage. Another recent example is Facebook’s use of Safety Check, a mechanism for users to check in as "safe" during or after an emergency event. Other applications such as Waze, provide real-time updates of road conditions by user’s self-reporting through the app and by monitoring their GPS. 
The recent storms have proven that fundamental communications systems can be disabled and transportation routes can be blocked, leading to many being unable to reach first responders and vice-versa. Neighborhoods and communities can be a first line of defense in case of an emergency, and smartphone applications help connect neighbor with neighbor in time of need.


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