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5 apps to prepare you for any emergency

The novel coronavirus has given us all a crash course in emergency preparedness—or, more specifically, in how unprepared most of us are. Many of us are just now scrambling to learn how to stock a 14-day pantry, assemble a bug-out bag, or create a makeshift quarantine room.

But the most critical emergency response tool is already in your pocket. While your supplies will be stored away in your home or car, your phone is always with you. Loaded with the right apps, it can be the most important life-saving device in your emergency arsenal. There are a lot of emergency response apps out there, though, many with similar features, and it can be overwhelming trying to separate the truly disaster-ready from the duds. So, we did it for you, narrowing it down to a handful that cover the essential bases for getting you through just about any crisis.

fema app Michael Ansaldo/IDG

The official FEMA app includes everything you need to prepare for an emergency before it happens.

Planning: FEMA

The operative word in this exercise is “preparedness,” and the yeoman’s work is done before the first sign of trouble. The official Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) app is designed to help you get a plan in place, so that you can respond, rather than react, to any emergency.

The app includes survival instructions for every imaginable disaster scenario—from active shooters and bioterrorism to natural disasters and nuclear explosions. On top of these detailed tips, the app provides an emergency kit checklist and entry fields for up to three emergency meeting places—primary, secondary, and out-of-town sites—where family and friends can join up when things go pear-shaped.

If you’re overwhelmed by the app’s disaster database, you can home in on exactly what you should prepare for by using the Know Your Risk feature. Enter your city or zip code and the app returns the most likely natural disasters to occur in that area. The results can be eye opening. Living in California, I expected earthquakes and wildfires to top the local list but had never thought much about the possibility of tsunamis. Once you know what to watch out for, you can set app alerts for those kinds of events.

All this should have you well-prepared to weather a dangerous event on your own, but should need more help the app can guide you to an emergency shelter in your area, put you in touch with a FEMA disaster center, or directly dial 911.

ice app Red Cross

ICE creates a lockscreen notification with your personal details and emergency contact.

Personal and contact info: ICE (In Case of Emergency)

In the event you are left unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate, emergency responders will look to your phone to find out who to call. ICE (In Case of Emergency) creates a virtual card that displays on your phone’s lock screen to make their job easier.

When you first launch the app, it prompts you enter your name, birthday, blood group, allergies, and medical treatments, and whether or not you’re an organ donor. Then it has you add a primary contact either manually or by searching your phone’s contacts app. When you’re done, just make sure you enable lock screen notifications on your device and ICE will display a message with your profile and contact data on two separate tabs. It’s still a good idea to carry your physical ID and medical card in case your phone gets damaged during the emergency event, but ICE provides an added layer of safety

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