How to Protect Yourself, Your Tech, and Your Data When a Hurricane Blows Into Town

When a major disaster like Hurricane Irene hits, you need to think about protecting your loved ones, your tech gear, and your data. Here are 14 apps, tips, and sites to help you.

Be Prepared

When a major disaster like Hurricane Irene barrels towards you, you need to think about protecting yourself and your tech life. Here are 14 sites, tips, and apps that help you with emergency checklists, communications, medical information, weather tracking and more.

National Hurricane Center

The National Hurricane Center is the "go to" place for hurricane information. Everything that you'd want to know about a particular storm or hurricanes in general can be found at this government site, including how to prepare for hurricanes and their history.

In addition to its website, the center has a text version for mobile phones. There are other good sites as well, including the Google Crisis Response dashboard.

NOAA Radar App

During a storm, or at any other time for that matter, you can see radar images of the weather around you or anywhere in the United States with an NOAA Radar app.

The iOs version of the app ($1.99) is designed for both the iPhone and iPad. The Android version ($0.99) can be used as a live wallpaper and provide you with weather alerts from up to five counties.


The best way to not find yourself wanting during a storm is to have a checklist of essentials you should have before disaster hits.

You can get control over this process using old-fashioned paper (the state of California has a helpful, printable checklist) or you can use a mobile app like the Natural Disaster Checklist ($1.99) for the BlackBerry, which has bells and whistles like a dynamic bar graph to show your progress in completing the list.

Disaster Caster

Disaster Caster ($5.99) is an iPhone app that lets you create and distribute disaster plans to family friends in the event of natural disaster, like a hurricane or earthquake.

The app has a large 911 button for instantly asking for emergency services and lets you forward your position based on the GPS unit in your phone.

GroupMe Text Messaging

While a storm may disrupt voice service on a cell phone, text messaging may still be operable. That can make a free app like GroupMe very valuable.

The program, which works with all major phone models, lets up to 25 people text, exchange photos and share locations on a single conference call. And it supports older phones, too, so you don't need a smartphone to use it.

Battery Packs

Here are handy little devices to have on hand during natural disasters: Battery power packs that can recharge devices from phones to tablets to laptops.

Shown here (clockwise from the laptop on the right) are the XPal Power Pack XP8000, $199, which can power and charge up to three devices at once, including phones, portable DVD players, cameras, camcorders and netbooks; the Kensington K38056US Pocket Battery for Smartphones, $12.99, and the i.Sound Portable Power Max backup battery for USB devices, $129.99.

In Case of Emergency (ICE) Apps

If you're disabled and unable to communicate with first responders when they reach you, you can let your cell phone do the talking for you. For instance, an iPhone app called smart-ICE4family($4.99) will record a message containing critical medical information about yourself that automatically plays when the app is opened.

EMS personnel and hospital emergency rooms look for ICE information if you are not conscious. Interested Android and BlackBerry users should search their respective app stores for ICE apps.

How to Protect Your Data

No doubt your PC, tablet, smartphone is chock full of documents and media--photos, videos and such--that you don't want to washed out in a storm. That means backing up the data.

You can send your data to a cloud service (Read: Cloud Storage Services Keep Your Data Safe and Accessible) or put it on a portable drive that you can pop into a pocket (don't forget you also can use many smartphones or music players to store some data).

It's even a good idea to scan valuable paper documents and store them along with your important digital data.

Red Cross First Aid App: S.O.S.

Another useful first aid app is offered by the Red Cross. Called S.O.S., the app is free but is only made for Android phones.

The program contains video demonstrations for quickly and confidently responding to more than 30 common emergency situations as well as a resource guide that covers more than 50 common emergency care situations. It gives you easy-to-understand instructions for treating conditions ranging from seizures to broken bones.

Local Alerts Via Nixle

Thousands of municipal agencies, including police, sheriff, and fire departments send out text message (SMS) alerts to inform their citizens of important events--traffic checkpoints, for instance, or suspicious objects in the road.

A free iPhone app called Nixle allows you to tap into these text streams anywhere in the country. It can be useful for keeping tabs on disaster damage during a storm.

How to Protect Your Hardware

It's best to unplug all electronic gear during a storm. That includes the phone line going into a modem, if you use one in your PC.

If you must compute while the storm is raging, you should use surge protectors or an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect your electronics. If flooding is a concern, wrapping your computer in plastic and storing it as high as possible is a good idea.

Police Scanner Apps

There's no need for a standalone squawk box to hear what local authorities are up to. Instead, use scanner apps for iOS and Android phones.

These apps, like Emergency Radio for the iPhone ($1.99) and Scanner Radio for Android (free in the basic version; $2.99 for the pro version), permit you to listen to police, fire and Coast Guard chatter live around the country. During a storm, though, local chatter will probably be enough.

No Internet or Cell Available?

A storm can knock out power lines and cell towers. If that happens, network communication can grind to a stop. A clever Linux program called LifeNet, though, allows battery-powered devices like laptops and Android phones to create an ad hoc local network.

The devices can only communicate among themselves--no Internet--but that can be useful in certain disaster relief situations.

Twitter and Facebook

As long as you have an Internet connection or cell phone connection, these two old standbys are a good way to stay connected with your network of friends and acquaintances during a storm.

You can not only let them know you're safe in real time, but give them minute-by-minute accounts of the tempest raging outside your window.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.

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