In Case Of Emergency: Free iOS Apps You’ll Want to Have

| Free on iTunes

I have several favorite places around town where I like to write these articles. Last week I was in a local Macaroni Grill during their very generous Happy Hour when I struck a conversation with a woman named Kris. Turns out she's an application development manager and works for Orange County, Florida, where I live. When she found out that I write this column she smiled and said, "I've got something you might be interested in."

It seems my local government has been putting my tax dollars to good use and has produced two very useful apps called OCFL (Orange County Florida) Alert and OCFL 311.

Free on iTunes

OCFL Alert is intended to provide a ready source of information in case of a public emergency. This is Florida after all and we get our share of hurricanes, tornadoes, lovebugs and other potential disasters. This app provides info about emergency shelters, water distribution points and other essential services during a time of need. When there's no emergency at hand the app delivers contact info for local government agencies, a calendar of sponsored events, public service announcements, Amber Alerts and more.

OCFL alerts OCFL Alert is a great app for OCFL residents

What's really cool is its Activity area which is like a visual police scanner. It shows you where in the county emergency services are active at any given time. You'll see a dynamic graphical display of medical, fire, and traffic problem locations that are being responded to. This can a great help if you're wondering why traffic is backup to Sunday. Also it shows you how our local tax dollars are being spent. It's surprising how busy emergency services can be.

OCFL AlertGet up to the minute reports of what's going on

OCFL 311 lets Orange County citizens report such things as broken street lights, stray animals, road hazards and other non-emergency problems that require the county's attention. The app makes reporting these issues easy and lets you track the progress of the fix.

OCFL 311OCFL 311 lets locals report non-emergency problems

Both apps are free and must haves for anyone living in Orange County Florida. Hats off to Kris and her team for putting these apps together. Those of you not lucky enough to live here should check your local government to see if they offer something similar. If they don't they should.

Beyond whatever your local government provides there are tools you might want on your iDevice that will surely come in handy during emergencies or aid in citizen reporting. I'm going to tell you about two others, so lets get to it.

Waze [26 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.0 or later, Maker: Waze]

waze

Here's the scenario: You're driving home and your normally zippy shortcut has become a two mile long parking lot. When you finally pass the choke point and discover that there was good reason for the crawling traffic the altruistic side of you may wonder if there's a way warn others of the delay so they can find ways around that particular bit of black top.

Well, of course there is! It's called Waze and it's a crowd sourced traffic hazard map that lets Wazers alert other Wazers of accidents, road hazards, cops (both obvious and hidden), and other issues that might hinder your driving pleasure. You might remember the company, because Google bought it for a billion dollars in 2013.

wazeThis map get busy at rush hour as Wazers weigh in

Of course, if you had to type in the hazards you've spied you might become a hazard yourself, so the app offers a quick and easy tap-centric interface so you can report with the least amount of driving distraction possible. In fact, if you do try to type the app warns you that it not kosher to do so while driving, so pull over when you do it.

As a Waze user you can advertise your whereabouts or go about hidden from view. Even if you do advertise your location it's done so using avatars. The display is simple and easy to understand at a glance. What's interesting is how the display expands and zooms in depending on your speed. It makes sense, really. You'd want a wider view of the map if you're moving faster so you can see what's ahead. Icons demark problem point around you to be aware of.

To keep you wazing the app awards points for reporting which you can use to jazz up your avatar and more. This could be fun, especially if you have a young copilot needing to feel useful.

ELERTS [16.6 MB, all iOS devices iOS 6.0 or later, Maker: ELERTS Corporation]

ELERTS

OCFL Alert is great for those of us who live in Orange County FL, but what about those of you who aren't as fortunate? And what happens if I leave my beloved county? Emergencies can happen anywhere and keeping ELERTS on your iDevice can keep you current no matter where you are.

Get alerted to earthquakes, floods, nasty weather, and other emergencies both natural and manmade. You pick what you want to know about, even crowdsourced, and you'll get notified lickety-split.

ELERTSKeep track of alerts where ever you are

But that's not all. ELERTS offers a way to let others know if you need help and if you're ok. It uses a feature called SkyWriter which grabs your current location, creates a canned message ("I need help" or "I'm OK") and lets you post it to a social venue of choice including email and SMS/iMessage. Obviously this is good stuff, especially for those who tend to venture off alone.

Of course, if you see an emergency situation ELERTS lets you report it as well. You can even include a photo (alien and Big Foot sighting require blurred images). Unfortunately reporting a problem does require that you not be driving so that you can type it in.

ELERTS is a nice app to have around, just in case.

That's a wrap for this week. Be sure to check out this week's Free App of the Week, PopAGraph. It's a cool photo post processing tool that can give your shots a shot in the arm and make them pop. Also check out this week's free Single of the Week from Vance Joy called Riptide.

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Comments

SQLByteMe

Such a cool app (OCFL Alert) for Orange County, FL. Kris and her team created a very useful app. The activity screen is very useful to avoid problem spots. More county governments should follow their lead. The vehicle crash data is extremely useful to avoid traffic tie-ups.

A nice way to make government useful and easier to access.

Joe

wab95

Vern:

As I read your article, what struck me is just how much of a leveller the iPhone (and indeed smartphones writ large) is. I recently upgraded my family car for the 2014 model, and just as the previous model had SatNav installed, so too did this one, but even better. What I noticed in my earlier 2013 model was how much better the realtime adaptive traffic guidance had become, which seems snappier still in the 2014 model. I find (when I’m in the same country with my car at any rate) that I use SatNav more often now, even on familiar routes, not because I don’t know where I’m going (my wife, who’s a native of the Baltimore/Washington/Annapolis area might argue otherwise) but for the traffic updates. Better still are the alerts that pop up on the central display, and which can be accessed via that touch screen to provide richer detail including live updated maps of where trouble spots are. It feels like real Star Trek stuff. All I need now are the captain’s pips on my collar when I strap in.

That said, I invariably feel a twinge, not so much of guilt but of concern about what other drivers must be going through who do not have that realtime adaptive guidance, particularly friends and family. Over the past two years, I’ve seen a raft of apps advertised that provides such guidance. You’ve highlighted two free ones above in Waze and Elerts. The advantage is that these, assuming you have an iPhone, are free and are actively updated. These bring state of the art SatNav capability, often at no extra cost, to everyone (yes, there are paid apps, and from what I’ve seen, they’re stellar). I’ve suggested some of these to family who have older cars, to good effect, and will pass these along as well.

Many thanks.

gwbeckett

Chicago has taken a slightly different tack than Orange County Florida.  Rather than developing its own apps, it has made civic data available to developers to build applications that tap into the city’s Open Data Portal.  One such app that interfaces with the 311 reporting system is called “ChicagoWorks,” and is available in both iPhone and Android versions.  Like the OCFL 311 app, it allows citizens to report potholes, graffiti, streetlights out, abandoned vehicles, restaurant complaints and more.  A couple of ways they integrate with smartphone features:  automatic detection of your location to fill in the street address for the report, and the ability to easily take a photograph and include it with your report.

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