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Mobile apps in the eye of Hurricane Irene

by Howard Wolinsky

Irene is bearing down on the East Coast, a hurricane of historic proportions taking aim at population centers, such as the Big Apple, which have dodged the furies for more than a century.

Apps potentially could help people in harm’s way prepare for and recover from Irene. That’s assuming the cellular networks can stand up to the weather and the huge traffic.

That’s a huge assumption.

Marguerite Reardon at CNET warns: “With more than 96 percent of the U.S. population owning cell phones and about a quarter of households with only cell phones for telecommunications, the question of how well the wireless network will hold up has become a big concern.”

Cellular providers have been adding backup power generators in case towers are hit by winds or flooding. But the surge of calls can pose a problem as evidenced by cellular problems during last week’s East Coast earthquake.

Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, said that the public should look to local TV broadcasters for information as because cellular networks are expected to jammed.

"With heavy congestion, you may not be able get through," he said.

Meanwhile, Fugate announced a new FEMA App for Android devices which includes preparedness information for hurricanes and other disasters, an interactive checklist for emergency kits, a section to plan emergency meeting locations, information on how to stay safe and recover after a disaster, a map with FEMA Disaster Recovery Center locations, general ways the public can get involved before and after a disaster, and the FEMA blog.

FEMA has made sure much of the information will be available even if cellular towers are downed to help survivors be safe after a disaster.

Nice job, Fugie. Almost. Unfortunately, the FEMA app isn’t available yet for BlackBerry version 6 devices and iPhones.

However, the FEMA blog did announce the availability of text message updates to enable cell phone users to receive text message updates from FEMA.

Tracking Irene on-the-go

iPhone and iPad owners are not left defenseless in the storm. Check out the Hurricane Tracker app. Weather Channel Max also can come in handy.

Over in the Android Market, there is Hurricane Hound Free, combining Google Maps with storm tracks and forecasts.

Monika Jansen at Tech Cocktail lists a variety of useful apps.

Experts are concerned that millions of people could lose their power in the storm. Along with other safety precautions, be sure your phone is charged and you have back-up batteries and a car charger. Be sure friends and family have your mobile number.

Use apps as needed.