Smart Phone Apps that could Potentially Save Your Life: Part 2 ~Ezra Boyd, PhD

Posted on March 7, 2014 By

Our last post described a handful of helpful Android apps that you could install on an old phone and then use without an active data connection.  With these apps, any old smart phone could be an important part of your emergency kit in your car, boat, hiking pack, etc.  This post builds on the previous post by describing a handful of apps that bring additional functions when there is access to a cell and data connection.

Obviously, communications, as the most basic function of a mobile phone, would be a priority.  If you have a cell connection and you need emergency help, then it goes without saying that you’ll use phone to call for help.  Calling 911 is an obvious first choice, but there are situations where that may not be possible or is not enough.  For example, if you are trapped in a valley you might have a weak signal that can’t support a phone call but could support other methods of communication.  In such situations, it’s important to keep in mind that text messages sometimes go through when voice calls can’t.  However, text-to-911 still isn’t fully implemented, so you’ll likely have to text friends and/or family!!!   In addition, the third medium of communication — social networks such as Facebook and Twitter — let you reach a large audience with an emergency message and they have technologies that let you post messages via texting.

When you get into the realm of communicating a personal emergency via social networks, one could imagine wanting a simple method to post an emergency message with your precise location information on your social networks.  One such app, GPS Status & Toolbox, provides a relatively straightforward method for going so.  While it is a full-on GPS app with lots of technical information that most users will likely find confusing, it is good to know that it’s ‘Share’ feature is easy to find.  Once you press the share button, it gives you the usual options for sharing — email, text, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Skype, LinkedIn, etc.  Figure 1 below shows the results of sharing my location and call for help via text and Facebook.  It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to letting your friends and family know that you urgently need their help and where you need that help.  If you get nothing else out of this blog post, then just take a good look at this app.

Figure 1:  Screenshot of message created by GPS Status & Toolbox and sent via Facebook (upper) and text message (lower).

Figure 1: Screenshot of message created by GPS Status & Toolbox and sent via Facebook (upper) and text message (lower).

Now that you’ve gotten your message out there, you might want to sit tight and wait for help… unless there is hazardous weather on the way.  That’s just one reason why it’s a good idea to have a good weather app installed on your phone.  In our experience, Wunderground Weather App and WeatherBug are both useful and feature rich apps, though that doesn’t mean the others aren’t good.  One point to keep in mind — in addition to the major, national weather apps you might want to also install the weather app from one of your local news channels.

Finally, never forget that with internet access you gain access to a web of online guides to help you through just about any and all emergencies.  While the offline guides described last time provide alot of information, the web provides endless information.  For medical emergencies, apps like WebMD and the Red’s Cross First Aid App (both apps work offline but have additional capabilities when online).  And, of course, there’s always YouTube, where you can find videos on repairing your immobile auto, boat, or bike or how to stabilize an injury.  In closing and  just for fun, here’s a video of McGyvor rescuing a hostage from a jungle camp by making a plane out of bamboo and duct tape.  But, before you try that at home or anywhere else, make sure you first watch the Myth Busters test the concept.


Ezra Boyd is a hazards geographer and a co-founder of He has a Ph.D. in geography with a minor in disaster science from Louisiana State University.  He has taught geography at Southern University of New Orleans and disaster management at LSU.

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