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The apps Americans are relying on to survive Florence

Quartz logo Quartz 9/14/2018 Heather Timmons
a person standing on a sidewalk © Provided by Quartz

As many as 10 million people may lie in the path of Florence, which was downgraded to a tropical storm but is still bringing strong winds and a massive storm surge to the coast of the Carolinas, and is expected to dump more than a foot of rain on already-saturated areas of the eastern United States.

Americans are relying on a patchwork of federal, non-profit, and business apps and websites to stay in touch, track damage from the slow-moving storm, and figure out where to go.

The main federal disaster agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), has an app that is supposed to provide up-to-the minute information about the storm, shelters, and evacuation routes. It is crashing constantly, according to Android users. (Quartz’s didn’t have the same problems, but hitting the “get directions” button to one North Carolina shelter inexplicably opened up Uber.)

FEMA also recommends the Red Cross’s Hurricane app, which shows location specific weather alerts, has a flashlight and an alarm, and allows users to connect with people in their contacts, but doesn’t have information on shelters.

Local and state emergency services were overwhelmed by the scope and damage during last year’s Hurricane Harvey, and hundreds of stranded people were rescued by independent volunteers and organized groups like the “Cajun Navy,” with the help of private apps and communication networks.

Zello PTT Walkie Talkie, a “push to talk” app, allows users to communicate when phone lines are down, and was an essential part of the crowdsourced rescue effort during Hurricane Harvey.

Crowdsource Rescue is an app that “empowers neighbors to help neighbors, via use of mapping, tracking, and rescue technology.” Users choose between “I need to be rescued” and “I can help rescue,” and connect with people near them. The app was created by an Emergency Medical Technician in response to the overwhelmed emergency services during Hurricane Harvey.

People fleeing Florence can find hundreds of places on AirBnB to stay for free; the company will screen applicants and cover homeowners for any damage up to $1 million. Harmany is an app created specifically to connect people during natural disasters. It’s set up so that people who have a place can list it, adding it to a map where those needing shelter can find them.

Gas Buddy, which lets users search for gas prices and availability by zip code, has set up a special “Florence Live Updates” page and section on its app so users can identify which gas stations are out of fuel, diesel, or power.

Dozens of Facebook groups have sprung up about the storm, offering tips on how to secure your windows, find gas, and crowdsourced links for local help. In some instances people are offering up rooms for strangers fleeing the storm. Hurricane Florence Safety Check-in is the largest, with over 550,000 users.

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