Hurricane Sandy: How can we better prepare for disasters using technology?

Hurricane Sandy may have tested our skills beyond what we could have ever imagined…this past week has been a humbling experience to say the least. Hurricane Sandy left many areas in the Caribbean, Connecticut, New York/NYC areas, and New Jersey crippled. Living in Jersey City I have seen first-hand the damage that was done by flooding (not even remotely taking into account the massive destruction in many other areas). I was without power for 5 days, which is certainly just an inconvenience in comparison to how some people have to live and survive right now. I do wish we would have heeded to the warnings our technology was bringing our way…

Emergency Alerts/Smartphones

On behalf of the entire B Culture Media staff, our hearts go out to all of those that lost their homes due to flooding and/or those that are dealing with massive destruction that the hurricane left behind in one way or another. Unfortunately, just because the hurricane/cyclone itself was over in about 2 days that doesn’t mean that there now aren’t weeks and months (if not longer) ahead of us trying to recover from this disaster. Here is a Recent Update on news about the storm’s destruction and aftermath.

My boyfriend and I didn’t prepare for this storm (#Frankenstorm) as we should have (not even close); however, instead of looking back on what we didn’t do right; I would like to focus on how we can all prepare better for the future. We can’t assume another tragedy like this won’t happen.  How can technology help in these scenarios? Obviously, given I was without power for a week; I realized that powering up my cell is the hard part, and then no cell service and/or access to Wi-Fi is another.  But, there are simple things that I could have used that would have helped immensely, and of course only finding this out after the fact, but again I feel it is better late than never.

I have compiled some things that I have done a lot of research on since my power was restored, and just wanted to help others as well.

First off, it would have been very smart to have one of these: http://tinyurl.com/79sftaa

The way that I even found out that these bags existed is by meeting a new hurricane friend while we were all camping out at the grocery store, Shop Rite, where all of us were sprawled out in the aisles sucking up juice from the outlets sporadically placed throughout the store. We were at this store for hours a day (or elsewhere) to try to fully charge our phones and other electronics.  For about $170 this bag will charge a smartphone up to 4 times, so you can charge multiple things with just this one source! Therefore, having this would have made it a bit easier to call loved ones during the disaster, get in touch with our offices that are out of state, etc.

Secondly, having a SpareOne Emergency Phone is a necessity (see picture below). It runs on one AA battery and will connect within range of GSM cell towers worldwide. It would have been an amazing emergency backup phone given that we all could not communicate with anyone due to the massive outages in cell towers and our smartphones losing juice in too short of a time. This phone starts at $60 and can be purchased from www.spareone.com.

Thirdly, there are a ton of smartphone/tablet apps that are available that could be of great help during emergencies like we experienced this past week. I have collected the top 8 apps available on various types of smartphones/tablets that can help in times of dire need:

  1. DriveSaf.ly is a free app available on Android smartphones, Blackberry and Apple (iPads, iPhones, etc.). This app comes in handy if you are in a situation where you’re driving in a hurry, but need to be on the phone at the same time.  Clearly, in a state of emergency the last thing that a person should do is be careless and cause potential harm to others on the road, so texting and/or holding the phone to the ear while driving is a bad idea. This app uses text-to-speech functionality so your incoming text messages and emails are read aloud while driving.
  2. RepairPal: Auto Repair is a free app available on Apple products and Android. It helps you get accurate repair estimates based on your location and includes customer reviews of repair shops in the area. Given many persons had their cars damaged, this is a great app to help ease the pain to find out where to take the vehicles to be fixed.
  3. SAS Survival Guide/Lite. This is a $5.99 app or free (for the lite version) that was created by a former Special Air Services soldier. This will help you learn how to build fires, find water, navigate by the stars and includes a sun compass, Morse Code signaler, pictures of plants that are helpful and/or poisonous, first aid help and much, much more. Available on Apple and Windows.
  4. Maverick is a free app that uses Google, Bing and Open Street Maps to track where you are and where you’ve been. This is an amazing app in case you’re in territories that you’re not familiar with.  Only available on Android smartphones.
  5. Tiny Flashlight + LED is a free app that will light through your phone’s screen or its LED light and is available on Android and Apple.
  6. The Merck Manual – Home Edition is a $9.99 app that gives you access to learn about medical conditions and procedures, medical terms and how to handle emergency situations. This app is only available on Apple.
  7. PressReader is a free app that gives you access to 2,100 newspapers from 95 countries in 54 languages. This is also only available on Apple. A great app to help aggregate news during a time of disaster.
  8. Radar Now! is a free app that provides the most current National Weather Service (NWS) enhanced radar base images along with the current weather conditions and storm indicators.  This is available on Android only. Other ones that provide Apple and Blackberry notification are The Weather Channel (free app) and WeatherBug (also free).

For some other references, for us candles were also very, very scarce, so here is a way to get really creative to build your own out of things you may have in your cupboards: Crisco Candle

Not to mention, walkie talkies would have been more than helpful! Here are some deals on those as well: http://amzn.to/YEUstb

There are also great points of reference on CBS’s Money Watch site for people that are seeking help as to how to deal with insurance companies after this storm:  http://tinyurl.com/bljrzmn

And, are you curious about whether your insurance covers floods? Go here: http://tinyurl.com/axkswf4

I am hoping that soon all of this can be put behind us, but it isn’t going to be easy. To help with relief efforts, as there are many families and pets that have had their lives destroyed, please go to these sites to serve as reference points:

Red Cross: http://tinyurl.com/bpjb7v5

Animal Rescue/Help: http://tinyurl.com/c8w8zn8

Remember, donating monies and doing what you can even from afar is a great way to help as we can all rebuild our communities together. Best wishes to everyone!

@natbdold

Natalie B. Dold

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iPhone 4S vs. iPhone 5: Is It Worth It?

Apple junkies have been lining up to get their hands on Apple’s newest release of the iPhone: the iPhone 5. While other companies have mocked Apple’s following regardless of the specifications, functionality, or price, simply because it has an apple on the back, there are many legitimacies to the latest update as well. Here is a comparison of the 4s and 5.

iPhone 4

  • Width: 2.31 in
  • Depth: .37 in
  • Height: 4.5 in
  • Weight: 4.9 oz
  • Display: 3.5 (diagonal) Retina display
  • A5 chip
  • 960×640 resolution
  • Siri
  • 8 megapixel iSight Camera
  • FaceTime Camera: VGA- resolution video
  • Apple earphones
  • 30-pin connector
  • Standby battery life: 200 hours
  •  Up to 16GB available on Apple.com

iPhone 5

  • Width: 2.31 in
  • Depth: .3 in
  • Height: 4.87 in
  • Weight: 3.95 oz
  • Display: .4 (diagonal) Retina display
  • A6 chip
  • 1136x 640 resolution
  • LTE3
  • Siri
  • 8 megapixel iSight Camera
  • FaceTime Camera: 1.2MP photos
  • FaceTime Camera: 720p HD video & backside illumination sensor
  • Apple EarPods
  • Lightening connector
  • Standby battery life: 225 hours
  • Up to 64 GB available on Apple.com

So, is it worth it? I still have my iPhone 4, but at a social media conference this weekend, a co-presenter of mine did indeed already have the 5. Watching him show off some of the new features, the what felt like and looked like skinnier and easier to maneuver display, and the speed, I would advocate, if you can afford it, and you utilize your smartphone more often than your tablet or laptop, go ahead and upgrade. If you can’t afford it, it won’t hurt you too bad to have to wait a little bit longer to upgrade.

The neatest feature that I witnessed, and you have probably seen touted on some of Apple’s newest television commercials, is the panorama picture display. Not sure the practical use for it, but I still enjoyed it. Plus, the speed. Some argue that the speed of the iPhone 5 will rival your home’s Wi-Fi! Which, it’s that is true, is just another step toward smartphone domination.

Did you upgrade to the iPhone 5? If so, what do you think of it compared to earlier versions? Feel free to post your thoughts in the comment section below.

@BCulture_Matt

Solar: Weather App Adding Color to the Forecast

 

Hollr Inc. takes weather to a whole new level with iOS app, Solar.

The app presents the forecast in an array of vivid colors and animation that is meant to make the user ‘feel’ the conditions. The beautiful color display is the standout feature and lies at the core of Solar’s growing popularity.  It’s easy to find and common to find oneself endlessly staring at the screen.  For a simpler way to get the day’s forecast, Solar also features icons.

Just want to enjoy the app’s color display? No problem. Tap the device to hide text and tap it again for the text to reappear.

Select locations and save them for future reference. With a swipe or double tap, view chosen locations simultaneously or individually. Switching between locations is an ease with Solar.

The app is receiving is picking up a lot of steam in the mobile world but the common complaint is the app’s temperature inaccuracies. But give or a take 10 or so degrees – Hollr, Inc. has set a new standard in terms of app innovation and creativity.

@BCulture_CourtB

WTHR. Simple, Yet Great.

Who said you can’t get exactly what you want and need for a dollar? Well, I recently answer my own question with WTHR, an IPhone compatible app that presents local weather conditions and temperatures in a conveniently simple design. In fact, the app’s design is the most notable attribute and it is definitely creating a lot of buzz. The app’s single page, ad-free, settings-free design is visually appealing and distinct in many areas.

Let’s say you need Fahrenheit, instead of Celsius – with a simple flick you can change temperature scales. This is the only “button” on the page. Users do not get overwhelmed when using WTHR because of the basic design. Thanks to WTHR, checking the weather can be a calm and accurate experience.

@BCulture_CourtB