As of June 1, we have entered hurricane season for 2014. Luckily for me, I live in Northern Illinois, and don’t have much impact from hurricanes, even severe ones, once they hit the US. However, I know a few people who live around the Gulf Coast and in Florida, so they are at risk from hurricanes. The American Red Cross has an interesting smartphone app that is designed to help those people out.  These are great to have for ever severe weather season.If you’re like 90% of American adults, you probably have a cell phone. According to Pew Research, some 58% of American adults have a a smartphone, while 42% have a tablet computer of some sort. In other words, it is likely that you have access to all sorts of interesting connected information. The American Red Cross has developed several smartphone apps for users like you! If you don’t have a smartphone, scroll down, I have something for you, too! (Even if you have a smartphone, check this stuff out, too)

This time of year is ripe for tornadoes, hurricanes, and wildfires in the United States, while earthquakes are possible year round. American Red Cross has developed several smartphone applications with the express intent of both preparing and reacting to natural disasters. Even better, there is a version for both Android and Apple of each app. Not every app is designed for phones and tablets, some apps are only for phones.

As I mentioned, there are several natural disaster apps (Tornado, Hurricane, Earthquake, Wildfires, and Flood) but there are also apps to help you know what to do if someone gets hurt (First Aid), what to do if your pet gets injured (Pet First Aid), one for learning to swim (Swim), one to help find an open Red Cross shelter near by (Shelter Finder), and one to help you volunteer to help your community in times of need (Team Red Cross).

Each of the disaster apps (Hurricane, Tornado, Wildfires, Earthquake, and Flood) take a moment to open the first time, at least on my iPhone. However, after the initial delay, each one goes through a fews screens to familiarize the user with the app, and you have to “Accept” the terms of use. You also get the option to use the app in Spanish, should that suit your needs. When you get to the main screen of the disaster apps, you have a couple of general options. From the menu bar at the top of the screen, you can open the “toolbox” and use your phone’s camera flash as a flashlight or strobe light, you can sound an alarm (though the sound is limited to the capability of your phone’s speaker), and you can send out an “I’m safe” message.

You can set the “I’m safe” message to go to a number of specific recipients of your choice by either email or text message (if your contacts have those destinations set up) or by social media, on Facebook or Twitter. You can also add a custom message before you send the notification, where you can add other information to your target audience.

The disaster apps’ main screen have checklists of what you should do during and right after the event, as well as one for the recovery phase of the disaster. The main page also has a link to a page of information that is useful in planning ahead for a disaster, as well as a checklist that walks you through creating a family disaster plan. There are also test (quizzes) that you can use to check your knowledge about the particular type of event that the app covers. And, being the Red Cross, there is a link that you can click on in order to donate to the organization, as well as links to taking Red Cross courses and buying emergency kits.

The First Aid app is interesting enough that I want to talk about it specifically. Remember, I am a licensed Emergency Medical Technician, so I have more than the average first aid training. It covers a fairly large number of pretty common injuries and potentially life-threatening illnesses (diabetic emergencies, stroke, meningitis) with a brief walkthrough of first-aid procedures and, as appropriate, a link to “Call 911” from within the app. The sections include a brief video demonstrating appropriate first aid measures, as well as a short Q&A of some common concerns that a first aid provider may have.

There is also a rather inclusive list of common emergencies that you can prepare for before they happen, including several natural disasters. As with the other applications, there are quizzes available to test your knowledge, and links to Red Cross classes, supplies, and donations.

If you don’t download any other application, I REALLY recommend the First Aid app, on a professional ground. It is no replacement for formal first aid education, but it has a lot of very accessible information that you would want in an emergency. And it’s FREE

Now, if you don’t have the capability or desire to add apps to your phone, if you have text messaging on your phone, you can sign up for Nixle (“Building Safer Communities Together”) or The Emergency Email Network (or both, since they cover different aspects) and get text notifications for your area of interest. Nixle can be managed from their web page, and will send you alerts and notifications (based on your target areas) from various government and public service entities. Emergency Email will send you email messages to a defined email address (like the text address of your phone) with various alerts, including weather alerts and government notifications, for your configure counties.

All of these services and apps are free (except for Red Cross Pet First Aid, which costs about $1.00) and are well designed to provide information when and where it is the most useful.