The Pew Research Center’s Mobile Fact Sheet reports that 96% of Americans own a cellphone of some kind. It’s a number that is hardly surprising, given the way the devices have worked themselves into every facet of our lives. For some (approximately one-in-five Americans), smartphones are their only access to the internet at home. Considering only 40% of US households have a landline, how we communicate with the outside world has changed drastically.
To see how much the world has changed since personal cell phones came on the scene, just think back to the plots of movies and sitcoms from the 90s and earlier. How many of the plots just don’t work in a world where you can pull out your phone?
Cell phones are powerful tools in an emergency, there is no doubt, but understanding exactly how to use them when disaster strikes can be the difference between a good outcome and a bad one. Let’s look at four situations where your cell phone can be your best friend.
Staying aware of your surroundings and going to a public space filled with people are the first steps to take when you feel unsafe. Having your phone charged and at the ready is next. Security experts recommend calling a friend or family member and staying on the phone with them until you get somewhere safe.
There’s something else you might consider setting up before heading out at night on your own. App developers have taken on the challenge of helping protect people. Kitestring is an app that checks on you and alerts your friends if you don’t respond. Ensuring that people know when something is wrong increases the likelihood someone gets to you in time.
The obvious and most significant way a phone can help is by connecting people with emergency services through 911 calls. Even before the call, though, people are using their phones to research their symptoms and get instant information about their condition so they can make an informed decision about seeking help. WebMD reports that close to half the traffic on their site comes from mobile devices.
A surprising way your phone can help you in an emergency is by providing your critical medical information to first responders (think allergies and pre-existing conditions.) The National Kidney Foundation’s article dives into how a feature called MEDICAL ID can help people who find you unresponsive can quickly learn basic medical history as well as your preferred emergency contact.
The interconnectivity that comes with a smartphone can be a blessing and a curse. While your work may always know where to find you, having access to critical information during natural disasters can be invaluable. It’s common for people to use their phones to stay up-to-date on natural disasters so they can determine when they should stay put and shelter-in-place, and when it is time to evacuate. Emergency weather services and even the White House have systems to communicate with all the smartphones in the US simultaneously.
Your phone can also be used to track your position. If you’re injured and unable to call for help during a disaster, your phone can be used to locate you. You can also use your phone and social media apps to mark yourself as safe during disasters to help your friends and family breathe easier. Be sure to check out this Consumer Reports article on ways to prepare your electronic devices for a natural disaster.
Car accidents can shake you, and often, remembering what to do after being hit can be difficult. Besides calling for an ambulance or an officer, a smartphone helps in other ways.
Be sure to use the camera on your phone to document your vehicle, any damage it’s sustained, and any injuries you have. Take a picture of the other driver’s insurance card and license plate, as well. You can also use the video feature to record the date, time, and your side of events. Eye-witness testimony and human memory can be faulty. Getting the information recorded indelibly can help protect you later on.
Part of any disaster preparedness plan should be a way to charge your phone. The Red Cross recommends packing a charger or power bank in emergency bags and making sure you don’t leave the house with only 1% left on your phone. Having a plan can make all the difference. Don’t forget that your phone can save your life, so keep it charged and stay safe out there.