How to stay connected during Hurricane Florence and other disasters

As the storm churns toward the Carolinas, many are boarding up windows and filling sandbags. Here are some useful apps and other practices for communicating when and after it hits.

Hurricane Florence prep and connectivity

Modern communication technology is vulnerable in a hurricane.

Power lines can be downed, and data centers could be flooded. Your cell phone could run out of juice, as some are predicting that large swaths could spend weeks without power. In Puerto Rico, hurricane victims were without power for months.

So, how can communicators who rely on technology to reach their audiences stay active in the days after a hurricane or other natural disaster?

The first step is to prep your phone.

CNN wrote:

Smartphones run through batteries fast. Without some restraint and backup plans, it could drain even faster during a storm when you’re constantly checking for updates.

Fully charge your main phone and any extra phones you have lying around in drawers. You could use them to call 911 or swap in your SIM card to do more. For backup power, charge any power packs you have, as well as laptops. In a pinch, you can charge a phone off a laptop. Make sure you also have your cords ready, including one that can plug into a car — another power source.

Many newer smartphones have some level of waterproofing, but if you’re headed out into bad weather or someplace at risk of flooding, pop it in a Ziploc bag or two.

To stretch out the battery life, turn on low power mode, dim the brightness, and turn off any unnecessary notifications. You can see which apps use the most power in Settings. Close them and avoid reopening unless necessary.

Certain apps could prove especially useful during the storm. Some innovative solutions might work even if your local cellphone tower is knocked out.

CNN continued:

After Hurricane Harvey, locals and unofficial rescue crews used some lesser known tools to locate people in need. Consider installing Zello a walkie-talkie app that lets you share audio messages and photos. You can create new channels or join existing ones — there are several already about Hurricane Florence — to communicate with others in the area and ask for help. But the free app requires a Wi-Fi or network connection (even older networks like 2G will work).

Meanwhile, FireChat is another messaging app that works without data or a signal, and instead relies on mesh networks. (But Bluetooth and W-Fi need to be turned on even if access isn’t available, according to the company).

Glympse is a real-time location sharing app that complements Zello and FireChat. After using the apps’ messaging capabilities, Glympse users can share their exact whereabouts with rescue groups.

Airbnb’s Open Homes program helps those in need of shelter with people who want to list rooms or homes for free.

Finally, install a few of the Red Cross apps, which can offer first aid relief to both humans and pets.

The data suggest that users are downloading Zello, the walkie-talkie app, in record numbers.

The Washington Post reported:

Bill Moore, the Austin-based start-up’s chief executive, said his team has seen a spike in downloads over the past three days.
“We’ve been measuring the number of new users per minute and it was about 100 two days ago and then got up to about 600 yesterday,” Moore said.

“We also saw a spike two weeks ago when the weather in Hawaii was problematic,” he added. “We’ve become known as the go-to app for emergencies.”

The app rose to prominence in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when the all-volunteer “Cajun Navy” used the app to coordinate a chaotic rescue operation in place of overwhelmed public officials. During Harvey, the app allowed victims and rescuers to post voice messages to specific channels, such as the Cajun Navy and “Harvey Animal Rescue.”

You can find explainer articles on how to use the app (such as this one) online.

Fighting misinformation

Though these apps might help users, some people have been spreading misinformation. On Twitter, users are encouraging those in the hurricane’s path to download Zello.

The problem is that many are erroneously promising the app will function without a data connection, or Wi-Fi. (The app needs at least 2G to work.)

Others on Twitter warn about an array of falsehoods being circulated:

Zello is embracing its role as a hurricane response tool with its tweets:

How are you preparing for Hurricane Florence?

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