When a disaster, natural or man-made, hits, many people now turn to their mobile phones to find information or where to go for help. The American Red Cross is using smart phone technology to make getting that information fast and easy.
Dom Tolli, vice president of product management for Red Cross, spoke to a class of students in the Emergency Health Services program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County campus Wednesday about those apps.
"You're trying to help someone as much as you can, as quickly as you can, in a state of emergency,"
Tolli said of Red Cross's emergency response programs. Tolli said the Red Cross launched four mobile applications in June of 2012 to make vast amounts of information readily available in the palm of the consumer's hand.
"We knew people were coming to the Red Cross digitally anyway when bad things happened," Tolli said. "I took that information and said move it on mobile."
Tolli said app downloads skyrocketed during Hurricane Sandy in the fall of 2012. Through the apps, Red Cross was able to provide up-to-the-minute information to those affected, even those without power or an Internet connection.
Storm victims were able to track storm conditions, find shelters and where gasoline pick-up sites were , in real time, as well as access information for giving first-aid to those in need.
The Red Cross developers who created the mobile apps came to UMBC at the request of Rick Bissell, a professor of Emergency Health Services at UMBC who works with the health department in Garrett County, where he lives.
Bissell works on the Scientific Advisory Council for the Red Cross.
He said the university's program focuses on the strategies of both government and non-government emergency management agencies, and praised Tolli and the Red Cross team for their innovation.
"He and his team are helping move the Red Cross into the public in a way that has never been done before," Bissell said.
Bissell said the mobile applications will help eliminate barriers between public health organizations and citizens when traditional methods of communication are unavailable.
"When an event happens, the information is often most available at the emergency management agency," Bissell said. "But it's difficult to get it from emergency management or public health directly out into people's homes, particularly when the electricity goes down."
However, because cell phone signals generally remain intact during power outages, Bissell said going mobile was a perfect solution to that traditional problem.
"It's based on people's mobile phones, which people find a way of recharging, and the cell towers are pretty robust," Bissell said.
"It's actually a pretty robust way of getting information to the people," he said.