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Using the power in your pocket to escape tsunamis

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

There are now literally millions of apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, touching every corner of our lives - from home food delivery to monitoring a baby’s heartbeat. But what can the power of mobile technology do to help in the event of a disaster, such as a tsunami?  Here are three apps that could save your life when disaster strikes.

Disaster Alert

Disaster Alert offers near real-time updates about 18 different types of active hazards as they are unfolding around the globe. The free app is one of the most popular of its type, notching up well over a million downloads. Developed by the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) in Hawaii, it provides GPS-based notifications, aiming to provide “individuals, families, and their loved ones with the information they need to stay safe anywhere in the world”. Covering tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, floods and wildfires, the app lets users customize early warning alerts, view situational reports and look up potential impacts in their area. The updates use data derived from scientifically-verified sources. When no official automated source is available, alerts are updated manually, which entails a short time lag.

Safety tips

As a country vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, one can understand why Japan’s tourism agencies developed the Safety Tips app. Designed specifically for tourists visiting the country, the app provides up-to-the-minute information about earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. It also tracks the user’s GPS location and can send notifications about tsunamis or earthquakes. Available in English, Mandarin and Korean, local residents can use a Japanese language version. Although the app concentrates on tsunamis and earthquakes, it provides alerts on all extreme weather events – generating relevant information on transport, emergency shelters and emergency contacts.


MyShake provides earthquake early warnings in California. Developed by the UC Berkeley Seismology Lab, and sponsored by the State’s Emergency Services, the app includes a novel feature. In addition to providing earthquake alerts, maps and safety tips, it turns your phone into an earthquake detector. The accelerometers and gyroscopes in phones can do more than estimate the number of footsteps you take – they can sense tremors in the Earth. Crowd sourcing the data will provide the emergency services with a rich new source of up-to-the-second feedback on what’s happening as an earthquake unfolds. Users can also report damage they encounter immediately afterwards – uploading pictures, text and location in a matter of seconds. It seems inevitable that more apps will incorporate crowd-sourcing features. In future, people caught up in emergencies could thus become a valuable source of information – not simply passive recipients of alerts and advice.

And finally, while Facebook may have attracted plenty of criticism for fake news recently, it is undeniably a powerful tool during emergencies. As well as enabling you to let loved ones know you’re safe, Facebook Crisis Response can also provide updates and helps raise money for disaster zones. Google’s Public Alerts, meanwhile, aggregates official warnings from around the world.

Note: The apps mentioned here are obviously just a few examples of those currently available. As with My Shake, they often aid specific regions and types of disaster.

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  • Publication date 26 Mar 2020

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