Hurricane season may be tapering off as we enter the last week of October, but the use of technology during all sorts of natural disasters shows no signs of stopping. As we all know, the United States experienced three powerful hurricanes in August and September (Harvey, Irma and Maria), each delivering an unprecedented amount of flooding and damage to the areas impacted. Then deadly wildfires ripped through the California wine country. Earthquakes shook Mexico.
More than ever before, we witnessed mobile apps at work during these disasters connecting victims with the aid they desperately needed.
Zello, a free app that turns your iPhone into a walkie-talkie by using a WiFi signal when cell service was down, shot to the top of the App Store. And it was used by the “Cajun Navy” to rescue hundreds in Texas following the flooding by Hurricane Harvey.
Ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft offered free rides to shelters for evacuees, while AirBnB used their platform to arrange free shelter for victims in the homes of hosts.
In Florida with Hurricane Irma approaching, residents were urged to flee north and as roads jammed with traffic, gas was in short supply and high demand. Florida Governor Rick Scott urged citizens to utilize GasBuddy, an iOS and Android app which typically crowdsources pump prices from users, to track fuel availability. Elsewhere in Florida, Tesla gave drivers of certain models an extra boost on their batteries allowing for additional mileage before needing to recharge.
More than a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, the island is still largely without power and cellular service. But efforts from Google, Apple and AT&T within the past week have allowed some users to reconnect to cellular service through Alphabet X’s Project Loon balloons. Yes, balloons are currently helping provide internet to the island.
Both Apple and Android released collections of apps tailored for the disasters at hand, such as the Google Play Store’s Hurricane Irma collection.
In Mexico, two devastating earthquakes shook the nation and took hundreds of lives. But a new early warning app called SkyAlert has seen 5.8 million user downloads.
As wildfires ripped across California, iOS and Android app CAL FIRE helped residents prepare and provided real-time updates on the fire’s latest status.
Like most things in life, technology’s presence in natural disaster recoveries is not without blemish as CEOs of major tech giants are known to make a blunder…or two…or three. However, it’s obvious that blemishes and all, technology will now always play a vital part in how we respond to devastation. In this article, former FEMA spokesperson Rafael Lemaitre admitted that in a post-Katrina world there is a part for citizens’ and the private sector’s involvement in recovery efforts. No longer do we expect or count on the government to handle it all. And, according to Lemaitre, tech companies…“could be a big help.”