Prepare your smartphone for the 2013 hurricane season with mobile apps

mmcnab@beaufortgazette.comMay 30, 2013 

In the information age, readying for a hurricane means preparing your smartphone, too. Loading your phone with certain applications could make it one of your most important tools when the storm comes.

Choosing the right apps can be a hassle, though. The markets for Android and iPhones are flooded with copycat and look-alike apps, all with similar features.

Here are 10 apps to have for the 2013 hurricane season, led by an offering from the American Red Cross.

RED CROSS HURRICANE APP

Released last July, the Red Cross Hurricane app includes almost all the information needed to plan for and track a hurricane. The app allows a user to check NOAA maps of the hurricane, find open Red Cross shelters in the area and get tips for preparing for a hurricane. It even advises what to pack for an evacuation. It has a flashlight function in case the power goes out, and an alert function to notify friends and family through social media, email and text messaging to let them know you're safe.

BOINGO WI-FINDER

There are plenty of Wi-Fi-finder apps on the market to choose from, almost all by using your smartphone's GPS to find networks in your area. Boingo's Wi-Finder finds both free Wi-Fi hotspots and Boingo-affiliated hotspots in your area, plotting them on a map and using a color-coordinated system indicating the relative strength and security of each network. Boingo's app also lets the user quickly set up a subscription to use a network of 600,000 hotspots worldwide, which may be important when free Wi-Fi isn't available.

WEBMD

The WebMD app offers advice for diagnosing and treating an illness or injury when a medical professional is unavailable. The app has a guide on how to treat many ailments with minimal equipment, all in a database that can function without Internet access. In addition, the app offers features to identify types of pills by shape and color, and lets a user search for physicians, hospitals and pharmacies by location.

FRUGAL HOTEL AND MOTEL FINDER

  • Available for: Android and iPhone
  • Cost: Free
This app enables travelers on a budget to identify the nearest hotels and their rates and compare them to deals on major booking sites like Hotwire and Expedia. The app searches almost every major hotel chain and has information on lodging in about 40,000 cities. It could be a resource for those on the road looking for a safe and low-cost place to stay. The app also lets the user store hotel membership information, which will display applicable discounts and information.

FLASHLIGHT BY IHANDY

  • Available for: iPhone
  • Cost: Free
Most smartphone users likely already have a flashlight app, which uses the camera's flash feature as a flashlight. Most of those have different bells and whistles, such as strobe features. But iHandy's app has a built-in compass in the display, as well as a slider to control the light's brightness. Be warned though: Flashlight apps quickly eat up your smartphone's battery power, so a phone flashlight should only be used when a regular flashlight is not available.

Android equivalent: Tiny Flashlight (free)

HOME INVENTORY PHOTO REMOTE

  • Available for: iPhone
  • Cost: Free
The Home Inventory app allows users to build a database of items in their homes by entering information and pictures. The app has options for users to categorize those items by where they are located in the home and in user-created collections and groups. In addition, users can scan the bar code of an item or its packaging to automatically add necessary information to the user's inventory.

Android equivalent: MyHomePro: Home Inventory ($3.99)

iEMERGENCY ICE FAMILY PRO

  • Available for: iPhone
  • Cost: $2.99
Most smartphones have "in case of emergency" contact numbers, but the ICE Family PRO app takes it one step further. Not only does the app store immediate contact information for the user, but also stores all pertinent medical information -- medical conditions, blood type, allergies, medications, prescriptions, and health insurance information -- in a handy database on your phone, which can be crucial if the hurricane forces you to evacuate quickly.

Android equivalent: ICE: Emergency Contact (Free)

REPAIRPAL

Having car trouble during hurricane season? RepairPal gives users an estimate for a repair and a list of mechanics in the area based on the phone's GPS location. The app offers quick access to roadside assistance if it's needed, and the user can track the car's repair history through the app.

SURFLINE SURF REPORT

In a coastal area like Beaufort County, an app to track ocean waves is a must for hurricane season. Surfline's app tracks the changing wave heights, swell direction, wind direction and wind speed for thousands of locations worldwide. More important, Surfline's app offers a five-day forecast of surf conditions in the area, which could come in handy as you plan for an advancing hurricane.

YELP

If a hurricane damages your home, being able to find a contractor quickly to make repairs is crucial. Yelp, the popular business directory, also includes categories for services such as construction and repairs, helpful for finding the right person for the job.

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