Severe weather and disasters strike with little or no warning. Protecting yourself and your family means expecting the unexpected and planning ahead.
When you think about emergency preparation, you probably think about having enough food and water on hand to last a few days. Many families who live in areas prone to power outages wisely keep generators to run appliances during emergencies. They also store extra batteries and use solar powered/hand-cranked chargers and radios.
Another handy emergency gadget you already have in your pocket is a smartphone. During a disaster, texting, email and social media are great ways to keep in touch and let others know you're OK. That also puts less strain on voice networks and can help life-saving 9-1-1 calls get through.
There are also a variety of free and low-cost smartphone apps that can help warn you of impending crises or help you better handle them when they happen. Consider adding these to your digital first-aid kit.
Red Panic Button ($3; iOS, Android) If you find yourself in danger -- whether stranded, injured or attacked -- your smartphone could be a lifeline. Red Panic Button is your one-touch emergency beacon.
Just tap the Red Panic Button, and an alert will be sent to your list of preset emergency contacts via email, text message and Twitter if you choose. Included in the alerts are your exact GPS coordinates and a Google Maps link.
The text of your panic message is customizable. Red Panic Button for Android is also capable of dialing an emergency response number when activated.
Disaster Alert (Free; iOS, Android) Disasters can devastate towns and regions. But thankfully, today's technology can at least give us early warnings.
Disaster Alert gives you a list of all the active hazards around the world, including hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes and man-made disasters
iMapWeather Radio ($10; iOS) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides radio weather alerts for areas in the paths of hurricanes, tornadoes and other powerful storms. Now you can listen on your iPhone, as well as access many life-saving features.
iMapWeather Radio automatically warns you if your real-time GPS location is threatened by a storm. It includes audio and video reports on developing weather. You can also set it to alert you if a saved location is in danger, so you'll always know if your family is at risk.
Disaster Readiness ($2, iOS; $1.50, Android) In the event of a large-scale disaster, telecommunications infrastructure could be severely damaged. There's no telling whether you'll be able to access the Internet.
That's why Disaster Readiness could be crucial to your survival. This downloadable emergency preparedness guide can be accessed offline. It contains more than 175,000 reference guides on how to respond to any disaster including wildfires, flash floods and terrorist attacks.
iTriage (Free; iOS, Android) Illness and injury can strike just as fast and unexpectedly as any natural disaster. If you can't quickly determine the severity of your condition or where you can get medical treatment, your odds of survival could decrease.
That's why two emergency room doctors developed iTriage. You can search medical symptoms and learn about potential causes. It will also tell you the nearest medical facilities and provide turn-by-turn directions and ER wait times.
iTriage includes emergency hotlines for instant advice from nurses and doctors. There's even a feature to save important personal information such as allergies, medical history and current medications.
GotoAID ($5; iOS) For many people, the first response to an emergency is panic. In a chaotic situation, it's easy to lose focus. But focus is imperative in the first moments of a crisis.
GotoAID is a simple, clean app to guide you through medical emergencies and disasters in the crucial early stages. You'll find first-aid procedures and videos for humans and pets. There are also guides for disaster readiness and tools and checklists to help prepare you for the worst.
This app also stores emergency numbers and helps locate relief centers. GotoAID also has a Morse Code generator and an Emergency Pulse beacon.
Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Get the podcast or find the station nearest you at www.komando.com/listen. Subscribe to Kim's free e-mail newsletters at www.komando.com/newsletters. Copyright 1995-2012, WestStar TalkRadio Network. All rights reserved.