Modern communication technology is vulnerable in a hurricane.
Power lines can be downed, and data centers could be flooded. Your cell phone could run out of juice, as some are predicting that large swaths could spend weeks without power. In Puerto Rico, hurricane victims were without power for months.
So, how can communicators who rely on technology to reach their audiences stay active in the days after a hurricane or other natural disaster?
The first step is to prep your phone.
Smartphones run through batteries fast. Without some restraint and backup plans, it could drain even faster during a storm when you’re constantly checking for updates.
Fully charge your main phone and any extra phones you have lying around in drawers. You could use them to call 911 or swap in your SIM card to do more. For backup power, charge any power packs you have, as well as laptops. In a pinch, you can charge a phone off a laptop. Make sure you also have your cords ready, including one that can plug into a car — another power source.
Many newer smartphones have some level of waterproofing, but if you’re headed out into bad weather or someplace at risk of flooding, pop it in a Ziploc bag or two.
To stretch out the battery life, turn on low power mode, dim the brightness, and turn off any unnecessary notifications. You can see which apps use the most power in Settings. Close them and avoid reopening unless necessary.
Certain apps could prove especially useful during the storm. Some innovative solutions might work even if your local cellphone tower is knocked out.
After Hurricane Harvey, locals and unofficial rescue crews used some lesser known tools to locate people in need. Consider installing Zello a walkie-talkie app that lets you share audio messages and photos. You can create new channels or join existing ones — there are several already about Hurricane Florence — to communicate with others in the area and ask for help. But the free app requires a Wi-Fi or network connection (even older networks like 2G will work).
Meanwhile, FireChat is another messaging app that works without data or a signal, and instead relies on mesh networks. (But Bluetooth and W-Fi need to be turned on even if access isn’t available, according to the company).
Glympse is a real-time location sharing app that complements Zello and FireChat. After using the apps’ messaging capabilities, Glympse users can share their exact whereabouts with rescue groups.
Airbnb’s Open Homes program helps those in need of shelter with people who want to list rooms or homes for free.
Finally, install a few of the Red Cross apps, which can offer first aid relief to both humans and pets.
The data suggest that users are downloading Zello, the walkie-talkie app, in record numbers.
Bill Moore, the Austin-based start-up’s chief executive, said his team has seen a spike in downloads over the past three days.
“We’ve been measuring the number of new users per minute and it was about 100 two days ago and then got up to about 600 yesterday,” Moore said.
“We also saw a spike two weeks ago when the weather in Hawaii was problematic,” he added. “We’ve become known as the go-to app for emergencies.”
The app rose to prominence in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when the all-volunteer “Cajun Navy” used the app to coordinate a chaotic rescue operation in place of overwhelmed public officials. During Harvey, the app allowed victims and rescuers to post voice messages to specific channels, such as the Cajun Navy and “Harvey Animal Rescue.”
You can find explainer articles on how to use the app (such as this one) online.
Though these apps might help users, some people have been spreading misinformation. On Twitter, users are encouraging those in the hurricane’s path to download Zello.
The problem is that many are erroneously promising the app will function without a data connection, or Wi-Fi. (The app needs at least 2G to work.)
Anyone who will be in the path of Hurricane Florence, download the app Zello. It’s a walkie talkie that doesn’t require service or wifi so you can keep in contract with loved ones + in case of an emergency. Share this to let others know! Stay safe everyone ð
— MamaDramað (@DamnKaro) September 11, 2018
For #Florence evacuees and those staying put, my sister shared a post w/ me about downloading Zello Walkie Talkie, which works as a communication device if there’s no service. It’s in app store for iphone and playstore for Android users.
— wapshkankwet (@wapshkankwet) September 11, 2018
Others on Twitter warn about an array of falsehoods being circulated:
Hey everyone out there in the path of Florence: please, please don’t put your valuables in the dishwasher. They will be ruined. (Also, Zello Walkie Talkie requires an internet connection to work; it will not function if you lose data service)https://t.co/x9mHWIEbK3
— ðCherie Heibergð (@digitalgain) September 11, 2018
I’m seeing a lot of misinformation going around this hurricane season. A quick reminder: 1. Your dishwasher is NOT a waterproof safe for your documents. Take your documents with you 2. Zello does NOT work without internet. It needs wifi or network (2G min) to function pic.twitter.com/aX9cRDsKFC
— Dmitri ð (@subtextiel) September 12, 2018
Folks, please stop sharing the posts about Zello being used if cellular goes out. It requires data to make its connection. No cell, no data, no Zello. Thanks for listening. #chswx
— Stitch (@El_Cliente) September 13, 2018
Zello is embracing its role as a hurricane response tool with its tweets:
I just published “Unusual hurricane tips I learned listening to Zello channels.” https://t.co/vR4AnSWZRX
— Mitchy Mitch (@MitchyM73939092) September 13, 2018
Hurricane Florence Rescuehttps://t.co/9ICdeVOMrK
— Zello Inc (@Zello) September 12, 2018
How are you preparing for Hurricane Florence, PR Daily readers?