In Times of Crisis, Information is Invaluable

Russell Lahodny

In the last few days, I have had more conversations than I would like regarding people and communities faced with the reality that everything they owned is gone. I have spoken with the grandmother of a family friend who escaped the Camp Fire in Paradise (CA) with only the few things she could grab on her way out the door, and I have been speaking with chamber executives across California who are trying to provide resources to their members while dealing with their own personal fears and questions. The most common question among everyone is, “What’s next?”

The reality is, disasters happen! They can’t be avoided. Whether it’s a fire, a flood, a tornado, an earthquake, or maybe even an active shooter situation—as leaders in our community the odds are high that we will find ourselves faced with an emergency one day.

Hopefully, I’m wrong about that and you won’t have to deal with any of those situations. For those who want to be prepared, I thought I might take an opportunity to share some apps that might provide some helpful information in an emergency.


One source that provides a ton of information to prepare for or in the wake of a disaster is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) app. For example, in the case of the Camp Fire, FEMA provided a list of emergency shelters for those affected by the fire to have a place to stay temporarily. It also is a place where people can apply for FEMA assistance and monitor the status of their application.

The app also allows you to set up alerts for a particular geographical area. The alerts cover basically every natural disaster you can imagine—flooding, severe weather, tropical weather, winter weather, extreme temperatures, earthquakes, and even a catch-all category labeled “Other Public Hazard Alerts.” As I’m writing this, I am using the app to alert me about the air quality for my area.

For those of us who are not currently under immediate threat of a disaster, the app provides tips to help you be prepared for emergencies of every kind—even including bioterrorism, cybersecurity, nuclear explosions and a pandemic. One of the tools to help you prepare is a list of recommended items to add to an Emergency Kit. You also can identify multiple emergency meeting places in town or out of town.

Red Cross Emergency

Much like the FEMA app, the Red Cross Emergency app allows you to set up alerts for areas of importance to you. You can set up alerts for where your home is, where your office is if you commute to work, and locations where loved ones or friends live. When setting up the alerts, you also have the option of assigning people to the location by allowing the app to access your contacts. In doing so, I can see all the people who may be in harm’s way and call them with a simple tap.

An added feature of the Red Cross Emergency app is the ability to send out an “I’m Safe” message to recipients whom you designate. This feature would be helpful in the case of the Camp Fire as the list of missing people seemed to increase even a week after the fire started. When sending the message, you also have the ability to send your current location, which can be helpful if you are out of danger but need assistance.

Through the map feature of the app, you also can find Red Cross shelters nearby. The Red Cross app also provides a section on preparing for a couple dozen emergencies very similar to those offered through the FEMA app.

One other feature about the Red Cross app is the quizzes. The app asks a series of questions about different types of disasters to test your knowledge. To me, this is a great way to educate your children about disasters and help them be prepared as well.

There is nothing over the top about either of these apps nor do they provide information that you can’t find online, but when you have minutes, if not seconds, to evacuate an area, odds are you are grabbing your cell phone and probably not your computer.

I truly hope that none of you will ever need to use these apps, but maybe they will help you be prepared if ever a situation were to arise. That’s why I call these apps lifesavers.


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Russell Lahodny is vice president of W.A.C.E. and vice president of local chamber relations at the California Chamber.