As I’ve been warning my fellow Red-Cross volunteers for years, smartphones are dramatically increasing the amount of information available to disaster relief workers in the field. A great example of this was just released in time for the latest round of tornados, an iPhone app that maps the disaster shelters listed in the National Shelter System . This particular app is free via iTunes and was developed by VisionLink, a provider of web-based software for social services, disaster management, homeless management, etc. I have spent hours downloading spreadsheets and lat/long coordinates for posting items on GoogleMaps, and can tell you that, even if this works badly, it is still a Godsend for disaster managers.
I will point out what may be a drawback to this and other smartphone-based tools for disaster relief work: cellular networks are vulnerable to the same events that cause disasters, and have finite capacities. It is pretty common to see cellular networks go down during a disaster. Cellular networks are also commonly overwhelmed by increased call traffic during a disaster – both from the affected population as well as from the relief workers streaming into the area. To my knowledge, these remain unsolved problems, and are good reasons for having robust, redundant systems like ham radio and satellite-based technologies for disaster assessment.
Kudos to VisionLink!
– ddw / K9DDW