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I am very lucky. I live in Manhattan and suffered no damages or flooding from Hurricane Sandy, nor did I lose power or basic services aside from our transit system. As I watched the massive storm wreak havoc and now see the tragic results and considerable recovery efforts, I couldn’t help think about what role mobile health did or could have played. After all, health includes safety, and safety was the primary concern for those impacted by the storm.
Of course, for mobile health to have played almost any role there needed to be some type of signal available, and assumptions that people prepared by charging their devices or had access at some point to a power source. You may not have been able to drive your car anywhere, but if your power was out you could sit in it and charge your phone.
Preparing for the storm, a record number of people downloaded the American Red Cross’ Hurricane App, which helped people not only track the storm, but locate local shelters as well. FEMA also has an app that helps prepare for disasters such as this, safety tips and a shelter locater as well. And even though water levels from Sandy were so high that they broke records, there is an app that helps residents predict storm surges in their area.
During the storm, even when a signal was unavailable, there are apps that were likely useful. First aid apps provide instructions on how to treat injuries, including special instructions for infants and children. Forget to get batteries for your flashlight? You could have used a flashlight app on your smartphone, and a personal alarm app to signal for help if you were trapped or needed to draw the attention of rescuers.
After the storm, utilities have apps that let you report downed power lines and outages and check status. And insurance companies have apps that allow you to file a claim via a mobile device, thus speeding the process.
Mobile devices also provided access to news sources that might otherwise have been unavailable to those without power, further contributing to safety efforts.
And since health and safety also includes mental health, the role that social media played – and continues to play – in creating and supporting community during this catastrophe cannot be ignored. During and after the storm, I was glued not only to TV news, but also to my Facebook feed, where I saw the following:
Even for those less impacted such as myself, it proved useful. On Wednesday, when I ventured to the office, I posted an update on my journey, including the perils of bike-riding in gridlocked streets with many drivers ignoring traffic signals and bike lanes, thus helping others avoid potentially dangerous situations.
One can't underestimate the power of humor in helping people get through a difficult time, and some found its way into social media as well. There was the meme speculating that Gangnam-style was actually a rain dance, and that through its popularity we had brought this upon ourselves. And of course, Lydia Callis, Mayor Bloomberg’s sign language interpreter, whose popularity spawned Twitter feeds and Tumblr pages as she became the city’s sweetheart.
Sandy will be one for the record books for any number of reasons. It will also be remembered for how people used mobile technology to augment their health and safety.
The views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer.
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