Tornado app could save lives

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Those of us who grew up last century may have had some unrealistic expectations about the 21st century, but none of us could have expected a device like the lowly telephone to become such a wide-spread, technologically-advanced device.

For today's smartphone, the ability to make and receive calls is almost an afterthought.

Everything from games to navigation has found its way onto the ubiquitous smartphone, but the latest app is one those of us living on the High Plains may want to consider installing as we move into the stormy weather season.

The American Red Cross thinks its new tornado app could actually save lives, providing local and real-time information when tornadoes pose a threat.

As of this week, the vast majority of Google Play users who have installed it gave it a five-star rating.

"This is an app for the everyday person," Liz Dorland, communications specialist for the Nebraska and Southwest Iowa region, said. "The nice part about it is if you're traveling to another city, the app knows where you're at, and it recognizes the danger in that area based off warnings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

You can check the weather any time, 24-7. When you're a sleep or away from radios or television, the app uses a high-pitched siren and warning message to let users know when a tornado is imminent. An "all clear" alert indicates when a warning has expired or been canceled.

"That way, if you're in a basement and don't have access to a weather radio, you know when it's safe to come out," Dorland said. "The app also works if cell towers go down."

Other features it has include:

* Severe thunderstorm and flood watch and warning alerts

* Enhanced weather maps

* One-touch "I'm safe" messaging that allows users to reassurance to family and friends they are OK

* Simple steps and checklists to create an emergency plan

* Access to critical action steps, even without mobile connectivity

* A toolkit with flashlight, strobe light and audible alarm

* Locations of open Red Cross shelters

* Badges users can earn through interactive quizzes and share on social networks

"The last one is educational," Dorland said. "It helps dispel common myths, such as the one about tornadoes not being possible in Nebraska in the month of February. We found out last year, they do happen. We want people to be as prepared as possible."

The app can also help people create an emergency preparedness plan, which it automatically emails to a list of specified contacts, so everyone's on the same page when it comes to reacting to a disaster, Dorland said.

The app is available in English or Spanish. Dorland said it could be accessed through iTunes, the Google Play app store or at www.redcross.org/ prepare/mobile-apps.T

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