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Facebook apps for disaster preparedness are a good idea

Federal officials are challenging software application developers to design new Facebook applications to help people prepare for emergencies and get support from friends and family after an emergency strikes — from personal medical emergencies to natural or man-made disasters.

When disaster strikes, the need to stay in contact with friends and family within the disaster zone becomes crucial for most people. There is significant relief when a loved one is able to let others know that he or she is safe. Conversely, the ability to provide assistance and shelter to those who are affected can often help to mitigate the mid- and long- term consequences of a major catastrophe.

Despite this rather obvious advantage, most Americans do not have a disaster communications plan in place. This lack of planning can overwhelm the communications network of a particular area, as people start unnecessarily calling anyone and everyone. Meanwhile, essential personnel such as EMS providers are unable to access these networks, making it that much more difficult to function in an already adverse environment.

I like this concept being fostered by the feds. Combining the increasing presence of mobile smart devices with the inherent distribution network of social media can potentially result in an effective communication tool that takes up relatively little bandwidth. I can see an app that with one or two keystrokes could notify a disaster victim's family or friends as to their whereabouts and if they are safe or need assistance. The app might be able to tap into local, regional and federal resource centers that can provide further information immediately to the affected population, such as shelter sites, food and water caches, and evacuation routes.

It'll be interesting to see what comes of this contest. It would be a cool way to harness the interconnectivity of social media that doesn't include videos of dancing cats.

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