In Case of Emergency: Refer to My Cellphone

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I am lucky. I've never been in a disaster or in a situation where I worried about my survival. Perhaps that's because I have lived in safe places and not tried too many risky activities. When my wife was a girl, though, she had to call a mountain rescue team after getting lost in difficult weather. Back then, she had to rely on her wits and a basic cellphone to call for help. Now, when emergencies or disasters strike, smartphone apps can offer detailed assistance.

The American Red Cross has an app that can alert you to common natural disasters so you can prepare in advance. The free Earthquake app for iOS or Android, for instance, has a main page with a big "alert" button that brings up information on global earthquake activity or notifies you about areas you have programmed in. This makes it handy for warnings about your own location or that of a relative living elsewhere. If an alert is issued, your phone can inform you automatically. The app's "prepare" menu tells you what to do when you get an alert, during an earthquake and immediately after. OK? If you are inside a building, for example, it will tell you to "drop, cover and hold on." The sections are clearly written and easy to follow.

This app and its peers are specific to one disaster type -- there's also one for tornadoes, one for hurricanes, another for wildfires and more. This means if you live in an area vulnerable to more than one kind of natural disaster, you may have to set up several apps.

Among apps that can help you deal with a medical emergency, one of the most comprehensive is the $2 iOS app Army First Aid. This app contains information on a wide range of first aid situations, including injuries, shock and snake bites. It is set up in chapters, like a book, and each section is written in plain English and illustrated.

While the app covers a large number of first aid situations, it could take a while to dig through its pages to find what you need in an emergency. You may also dislike its brusque military style. A great alternative is the Pocket First Aid & CPR app, $2 on iOS, which covers fewer emergencies but offers quick access to step-by-step instructions for more everyday situations, like an allergic reaction.

Knowing someone's medical information can be critical in an emergency, and many apps let you store this data. A useful one is called ICE Standard-Auto Edition, a $1 iOS app. Enter personal details, like your name, emergency contact and important allergies or medical ailments, and the app automatically displays the information in an easily read format. The app can also generate an image of the data for use as your phone's lockscreen. Emergency responders can read this without unlocking your device.

This app includes an auto section where you can enter data about your car, and a large "I've been in an accident" button guides you through what to do in that situation. There's even a form for entering accident data like vehicle IDs and weather conditions.

The Android edition of the app is free, but does not contain the auto accident section.

For an emergency that forces you to seek shelter, food or water, Britain's elite special forces unit offers the SAS Survival Guide, a $6 iOS and Android app. The app's main page is a grid of icons that take you to subsections filled with survival information, covering essentials like drinking water and finding "wild food."

The app is expensive, however, and while it does have information on first aid, you may find a dedicated first aid app more sensible. These apps may contain more up-to-date information based on current guidelines.

Your smartphone can also act as a signal beacon in case of an emergency, whether through its bright screen or a built-in photo flash. On iOS, the free app Flashlight O can send out a bright light or the internationally known S.O.S. message in Morse code, and it has a built-in compass. On Android, the free app Flashlight SOS FlashText is similar. If your device has no flash, it can turn your screen's brightness to the maximum, and it can send short messages in Morse code.

Quick Call

Weathertron is a new and novel weather app that costs $1 on iOS. It combines up-to-date information and forecasts into a neat-looking infographic. The idea is to present a lot of weather data at a glance.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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