What will you do if the big earthquake hits? Are there location based apps that can help and what lessons can we learn from previous earthquakes such as the ones that devastated buildings and people in Christchurch? The answer is a resounding yes and perhaps not the ones, or in the way you might have thought.
GNS Science calls them the Cook Strait earthquakes and aftershocks, but most people have their eyes on Wellington. As at the time I am writing this post there have been almost 2,000 quakes and aftershocks in the last 12 days.
So what are some of the problems you might face and apps you might be able to use?
- Where are my friends?
- Where are my staff or colleagues?
- Where are my family?
- What roads are open?
- How do I get to my key people?
- Where do I go?
- Are there shops open?
Do keep in mind that GPS and communications uses up batteries and chances are you will use more than normal, both because you want to stay connected and because some cell towers may not be working. I recommend you buy a back up power supply for your device. I got a great one on Deal Extreme, for $18 including delivery. Here are some ideas for you:
- Foursquare. A lot of people don’t get the point of Foursquare and most people don’t think laterally. Foursquare uses the GPS on your mobile to allow you to check into places. If you do nothing else, set up your family, close friends and colleagues on Foursquare and during times like these, get them to check into the places they are going to. Even if you can’t contact them, you will know the last place they checked into. You can also add comments and photos and link to other applications, for example you can automatically tweet your location and photos and any tips. Tips saying that a shop or petrol station is open would be helpful as would information about gridlock.
- Facebook. The mobile Facebook allows you to check in as well. It doesn’t appear to have the same number of locations in its database as yet, as Foursquare does, but you can check in. Chances are you already have all your friends and family set up if you are a Facebook user.
- Twitter. Twitter allows you to check in as well. One of the things that Twitter does well is use of hashtags. #eqnz and #wellington are good examples and you can save searches of hashtags in order to get the latest news. One thing Twitter does well on PC, but not on mobile apps is Lists. On a PC you can create lists of people who you can follow, so for example you can create lists just for the people you want to stay in touch with.
- Hootsuite. As above. The good thing with Hootsuite, which allows you to do the same things as Twitter, is that you can set up multiple streams in columns, so for example you can have live streams for specific ‘searches’. Note you could also create a unique hashtag that you agree to use between contacts. All you need to do to create a hashtag is pick a word and put the # or pound symbol in front of it and its a go. Hootsuite isn’t the only application of its type but it is one of the big ones and has recently acquired one of its major competitors Seesmic, which is likely to be merged into it soon. Hootsuite also allows you to post to other social media including Facebook and LinkedIn.
- Google+ is another one which is growing rapidly and of course with the search capabilities of Google, would be a wise app to include. Personally I like the app better than using it on my web browser.
- AA Roadwatch aka AA Traffic. Not actually an app, you need to access it on your web browser, but it is the best service in New Zealand for real time traffic information. If you live in other parts of the world I’d recommend Google, but in New Zealand AA Maps is the best imho. You can also subscribe to SMS area or route alerts on your mobile and the site also includes airport and Cook Strait Ferry information. Unfortunately not for Wellington Airport.
- TomTom Car Navigation. TomTom is my GPS car navigation product of choice when it comes to car navigation and real time traffic conditions. You can have it as an application on your mobile smartphone or you can purchase a GO Series device. I haven’t got the latest model, but I have used these in New Zealand, Australia and in the USA and the combination of real time traffic and the latest maps takes a huge amount of stress out of the situation. It will not just give you the best route, but it will route you around traffic jams and road closures. I had friends in Christchurch during the last quake who took desperate hours to drive a few kilometers to locate family members and get them home. TomTom used to have a Buddy Finder feature as well, so that you could share your location with other people using a Go Live devoice. I think they stopped that and I haven’t tried their latest products, so I don’t know if they still have it. They also supported 3rd party apps on the nav device like Foursquare, but again I’m not sure if that is on the current devices.
- Your newspaper apps. I have NZ Herald, Stuff, ABC News, and NBC on my iPad. I do have to warn you that many newspapers are light staffed during the night, perhaps still a historic legacy of their print origins and cost cutting, but they are still worth having. In an emergency I tend to rely on social media, which you might notice is where the newspapers today get a lot of their their latest ‘on the spot’ images and news from. After all if there is gridlock, they can’t get there either.
- Vine and Instagram are worth having, particularly if you want to share still or video images with family or friends. They also allow location based searching and hashtags.
- The Metservice app includes traffic cameras, so you can see what is going on key highways and check out the weather at the same time.
- Emergency Check Lists. There are loads of apps available that allow you to compile lists. You shouldn’t need any help with that. Your phone book has lists of things you should have in your emergency kit, whether that is what to have at home or what to keep in your car. If you are in a risk area like Wellington and Marlborough right now, hopefully you have the fully sorted. You could just use the notepad on your device, but there are some great list apps like Wunderlist and Evernote is a great free tool for keeping information together that I recommend to everyone. You can do all sorts of amazing things with it including copying this whole page. It will synchronise your information across every device you have it installed on.
- Civil Defence Apps. I have the Auckland Civil Defence App. I have registered and have notifications enabled. This is important because if there is an emergency, say a tsunami for example, they can’t establish Welfare Centres and other beachheads until they know which areas are safe. I did find it interesting that Wellington doesn’t appear to have an app.
NZ Quakes App. I have the NZ Quakes apps on my iPad and iPhone. It can be morbidly fascinating and as you can see from the image, it has been relentless. If you’re in the zone, you may not need to know that there has been yet another quake, but it can let you know the location and intensity. It could of course just add to the stress. Me, I like facts.
- Accommodation Sites. Take your pic for what is available in your area or country. This may seem strange, but if you find yourself suddenly in need of accommodation, it would be handy to have an application that can tell you where there is local accommodation. There aren’t any apps that I’m aware of designed for emergencies and this might be an opportunity for developers to give this some thought. The issue is that if properties don’t have power or communications, it is not going to be easy for them to advise reservation engines if they have rooms available.
- Vehicle Tracking. A lot of people invest in low cost vehicle tracking solutions in order to track their company vehicles and claim back road user charges. But this same technology is often used by people who have sports or classic vehicles, vehicles they don’t want to lose. It can also be used to keep track of the kids when they are borrowing your car. These systems, such as the GPS Log Book Live are available for only $399 and $20 per month for live tracking. This could be the perfect solution if you want to know where your people are. If this is of interest, let me know because I am trying to negotiate a deal for my readers.
- Glympse is a great application for people who need to let their friends and family know where they and where they are going. It can track you in real time and let those who need to know where you are find you.
- Where’s My iPhone. I have this on my iPhone and iPad. It is a standard feature and allows me to see where my devices are on a map from another device or PC and even make a noise, or blank them out. To do this, the person you entrust must have your Apple ID and password. There are similar applications for other mobile operating systems.
- Flashlight. If you find yourself in a critical situation in the dark and you didn’t have a torch in your emergency kit (do it now), the application called Flashlight can turn your mobile display into a torch. Do keep in mind that this will have a major impact on your battery life, but useful nevertheless.
I could go on, but this should give you a head start in your preparation for an emergency situation. If the big earthquake hits your town, if you are racing away from an impending tsunami, or a new volcano decides to appear on your doorstep. If you live in a country like New Zealand which is perched on the ring of fire, it is highly likely that you will experience an earthquake. The more prepared you are the better and the device you are most likely to always have on you is your mobile.
Do you have a favourite app that I haven’t mentioned? Please share you comments on this blog so we can all learn fro each other.