In case of emergency, open these four iPhone apps

You never know when and where disaster will strike, but you can prepare for nearly any catastrophe by using these four iPhone apps: Emergency Aid ($1.99), Emergency Radio Free, ubAlert, and the American Red Cross Open Shelter View.

A 5.5 earthquake in Sumatra, a flood in Hawaii, an explosion in the Congo--and that's just the last 9 hours.

Trouble strikes when you least expect it. All you can do is prepare for it. These four iPhone apps get you ready to respond to whatever emergency situation you may face.

Put emergency contact and medical information on the iPhone lock screen
The iPhone equivalent of a Med-Alert bracelet is the $1.99 Emergency Aid app that puts potentially life-saving information in your iPhone lock screen and/or your wallpaper: allergies or other medical alerts, the medications you take, the person to contact in case of emergency--whatever information you choose to share.

Emergency Aid lock screen with emergency information
Place medical, emergency-contact, and other vital information on the iPhone lock screen with the Emergency Aid app. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Your Emergency Aid medical profile can include your doctor's name and phone number, existing medical conditions, allergies, medications, medical alerts, and insurance information. The app's emergency resources help you respond to problems small and large: everything from anaphylactic shock to animal attacks and from strokes to overheating radiators. But the program delivers more than just emergency-related advice and information.

For example, Emergency Aid's Distress screen serves as an emergency beacon by flashing two alternating colors of your choice, or press the Light button to convert your iPhone into a flashlight.

One-click numbers can be programmed on Emergency Aid's Call screen: 911 is pre-programmed, and three other numbers can be added for an emergency contact, personal contact, and medical contact. Be sure to protect your private information by activating the app's password feature via the Settings window.

If you're expecting trouble, you can set the program's home screen to be the flashing Distress beacon, although the default home page is your Profile; other home-screen options are to show the Resources window or the Call window. The three options for the Emergency Aid wallpaper are MedAlerts and Medications (on by default), Emergency Contact, or Blood Type & Conditions.

Emergency Radio Free main radio-feed window
Listen in on police, fire, and other emergency radio broadcasts via the Emergency Radio Free iPhone app. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Access thousands of emergency radio broadcasts for free
To get real-time reports on police, fire, and other emergencies occurring in your area or around the world, listen to the feeds on EdgeRift's Emergency Radio Free. (I can tell you, things are pretty quiet in Manawatu, New Zealand--apart from last night's assault in the park.)

The app's main window shows the current emergency feed, the scanner codes, or the current feed on a Google map. The free version places an unobtrusive ad at the bottom of the screen; pay $1.99 to remove the ads.

The program's emergency feeds cover nearly every area of the U.S., but many of the feeds are offline at any given time, for unknown reasons. When a feed is online, its entry includes the number of people listening to it. Icons indicate feeds for weather, police, fire, and medical emergencies. Other broadcast feeds in the app are from regional airports and the RadioReference.com network.

Worldwide disaster reports with credibility ratings
The free ubAlert app lists information on the latest earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. But the program goes a step further by allowing you to add your own disaster alert and to rate the credibility of other reports. You can receive notifications of disasters in your vicinity or in the category of your choice by paying $1 a month.

ubAlert list of recent natural disasters
Keep tabs on natural disasters occurring around the world by using the ubAlert app that reports on earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires, and other calamaties. Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The entry for major events includes a text description, but most reports are limited to the type of event, the general location, the number of "cred" points, and "cred" and "discred" buttons.

There's also an option for viewing the event's location on a map, but I was unable to get the maps to display when I tested the free version of the app.

ubAlert lets you share the report on Facebook and Twitter or via e-mail. You can submit your own report to the service in such categories as avalanche, chemical spill, explosion, gas leak, power outage, riot, tornado, and wildfire.

Give the event one of six severity levels (including "unknown" and "isolated incident"), add a description, estimate casualties, and attach a photo or video.

In addition to viewing alerts in chronological order, you can list them by credibility and popularity, but both categories appear to sort the events by their number of "creds". Only events from the last 24 hours are shown, but ongoing events are updated frequently.

American Red Cross Open Shelter iPhone app
The American Red Cross Open Shelter View app for the iPhone shows the location of all shelters currently operating, along with basic information about the event that precipitated the shelter's opening Screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Free app from the American Red Cross locates all open shelters
In the aftermath of this weekend's devastating tornadoes in the Ohio River Valley, the value of the American Red Cross Open Shelter View app is readily apparent. All Red Cross shelters currently in operation are listed by state and shown on a Google map.

Select the entry in the list or its pin on the map to see the facility's name, address, and the date of the associated event. Some entries also include information on the number of people evacuated or otherwise affected.

The app links to the American Red Cross site for news reports about recent disasters to which the association has responded. The site also offers a disaster response guide and information on its past relief operations.

There's nothing you can do to prevent nature from interrupting your life for the worse from time to time. But there is something you can do to mitigate the damage and maybe keep a minor hassle from becoming a major one. Readiness can make a big difference.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

    Join the discussion

    Conversation powered by Livefyre

    Don't Miss
    Hot Products
    Trending on CNET

    HOT ON CNET

    Last minute back to school shopping?

    Whether you're looking for headphones to study with or music-streaming gear, CNET rounds up a shopping guide just for you.