In an emergency situation, like a wildfire, your smartphone has countless tools and tricks that can help you in a number of ways. In addition to providing you access to useful news and weather apps (like CNN and The Weather Channel), you can tap into countless other useful applications - all designed to help you prepare for and stay safe during a wildfire. Following are just a few of the ways your smartphone can help.
A flashlight should you lose power. Most smartphones come equipped with their own flashlight feature that can come in handy in case of any power outages. If your phone does not have an installed flashlight, you can select from a number of options from the app store.
Easily find the nearest wireless connection. The Boingo Wi-Finder app uses GPS to locate the closest network. The app also plots results on a map, using a color-coordinated system indicating the relative strength and security of each network. (Available for free to iPhone and Android users.)
First aid and safety information at your fingertips. The Wildfire by American Red Cross app lets you see where NOAA has issued wildfire warnings; notifies you when a new wildfire occurs; and gives you a current view of the wildfire's track and perimeter. The application also includes the “Wildfire News” section that links all fire-fighting agencies’ Twitter feeds and websites allowing the most current updates to be accessed immediately. The app also has an "I'm Safe" alert for Facebook, Twitter, and email so you can tell your family and friends that you are safe.(Available for free to iPhone and Android users.)
Get traffic, routing and road closure alerts to help make your evacuation easier. This traffic app can be especially useful when evacuating from a wildfire danger zone and navigating around multiple road closures. (The limited version is available for free to iPhone and Android users.)
Store your files and images in the Cloud for easy access, anywhere. Depending on the severity of the storm, your laptop and all its files may get left behind in a haste to evacuate. Dropbox offers free storage in the cloud which means files can be accessed from any device, anywhere. (The limited version is available for free to iPhone and Android users.)
Simplify the claims process by creating a photo inventory of your possessions. The Home Inventory Photo Remote app allows users to walk around their homes and build an outline of a personal inventory to compile for insurance purposes. The details can be filled in later. Users can create items, locations, collections and categories for their personal property. The app can also scan the bar code from an item or its packaging to add to users' inventory automatically. (Available for free to iPhone users. The Android equivalent: MyHomePro: Home Inventory is $3.99.)
Know the location of family and friends, even if you can't reach them on the phone. The Find My Friends app allows you to easily locate friends and family from your any iOS device by displaying their location on a map. (Available for free to iPhone users.)
During a disaster, rumors can run rampant; get the real story. The 5-0 Radio Police Scanner Lite to help figure out what really is going on with relief efforts, the answer might be found on police band radio. This app allows you to pick up an unfiltered feed of cops, firefighters and other public-safety officers. It shouldn’t be your only news source, but it could be worth listening in. Available for free to iPhone users. The Android equivalent is the free Scanner Radio app.)
Running all of these apps will require more battery power. With the high likelihood of a power outage during a hurricane, you need to be prepared with an alternate power source for your smartphone and tablet. There are many add-on and external battery packs available today including options from brands like Nextek, Mophie, Zendure, Innovative Technology, Anker Astro, Proporta USB to name just a few.
Tools to Help Track the Wildfire
- InciWeb Incident Information System provides location, status and other details about active wildfires.
- Esri Public Information Map offers a Google Maps-like view of active wildfires throughout the country. In addition to keeping tabs on the scope of the wildfire, Esri provides crowdsourced information sampled from social sites like Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
- Wildfire by Red Cross provides the latest state-by-state Wildfire news and updates, prepare your family, home and pets, let loved ones know that you are safe even if the power is out – a must have for anyone who lives in an area that is susceptible to wildfires or has loved ones that do.
Other Online Resources
Wildfire Prevention and Safety. Built by the California Fire Department, this site contains interactive features and detailed descriptions designed to help homeowners prepare for wildfire; various wildfire-related home improvement tips and evacuation guidelines; and much more.
Landscaping and Planting Tips in Wildfire Prone Areas. This site was created by The Firewise Communities Program and provides advice on the best options for fire resistant plants and planting techniques.
Online Courses and Education. Recognizing the threat and knowing how to protect your family, home, property and your neighborhood before a fire happens, are the first steps to successfully becoming truly “firewise.” The Firewise Communities Program offers web-based, interactive training geared toward homeowners on a variety of wildfire safety topics.