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How our smartphones can help

By Jacci O’Connor and Jay Woods
Special to The Enterprise

A few years ago my neighbor knocked on my front door. Because he was a chronic borrower of things I answered the door assuming he needed another tool. Instead, he said “There’s a bad fire coming our way and we may have to evacuate. They said on the news that we might have just 15 minutes or less to evacuate.” Fred was the master of the understatement so I knew the threat was real.

My mind hit the pause button. I was overwhelmed.

My house escaped the fire but I was shaken by my inability to organize my thoughts and to follow a logical plan of action. I certainly had emergency supplies on hand, and I’d always known what items to grab in the event of an evacuation, but when the moment was upon me paralysis set in.

This was before smartphones.

September is National Preparedness Month. For more information about preparedness we recommend you visit the excellent Ready.gov website, www.ready.gov. The website is a treasure trove of helpful information about how to be prepared for both natural and man-made disasters and emergencies, and how to make and practice a preparedness plan for a variety of situations.

We studied the Ready.gov website for information pertaining to the role of personal technology — specifically our smartphones — in preparing for emergencies. Here are just a few of the recommendations in the “Get Tech Ready” section of the website:


* When a potentially dangerous situation is close at hand keep your phone fully charged at all times.

* Keep a phone charger, power strip and if possible a back-up power supply in your car.

* Know how to change the settings on your phone to low-power mode to conserve energy.

* Almost all smartphones have a built-in flashlight and a magnifier feature. If you haven’t already, become familiar with these features.

Smartphone apps

* Download the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) app to your phone and set it to receive notifications and text alerts.

* The Red Cross Emergency! app has an “I’m Safe” button you can use to post information to your social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) accounts letting others know your status.

* If you don’t use social media, you can bookmark the Red Cross Safe & Well website (www.redcross.org/safeandwell) in your phone’s internet browser as another means of reaching loved ones in a disaster or emergency situation.

Important documents

* Use your phone’s camera to scan or photograph important documents such as insurance policies, medical and other official records. When possible obtain electronic versions of these documents to keep on your phone and in a cloud storage service.

* Have digital copies of all your important photos and keep them backed up.

* Keep your contacts updated on your phone and synced across all of your devices (phone, tablet, computer).

* We also suggest keeping important passwords in your phone so that you can access your online accounts if you away from home. There are several ways to do this depending on your phone and your personal preferences. Of course if you do keep passwords or any sensitive information on your phone be sure that the phone itself has security (passcode, touch ID or facial recognition) enabled.

Additional tips

* The Ready.gov website recommends signing up for Direct Deposit (e.g. your paycheck, Social Security check or other funds you receive regularly) and setting up electronic banking.

* We know many of our fellow seniors are not comfortable with banking online, however we recommend you consider establishing online access to your bank and download the bank’s app. Even if you choose not to do routine banking transactions online, you will be able to get to your account no matter where you are.

Based on the fire evacuation scare Jay had a few years ago, we also suggest that once you have made your emergency plan (including a list of the items you need to have on hand), put a copy of that plan in your phone — in your Notes app, Reminders app, or any text document — and keep a copy in the cloud. That way, if you are ever faced with the need to act quickly and you feel a bit of panic, you need only remember one thing: go to your phone, tap on your safety plan, and follow it step-by-step.

These recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparedness. We hope you’ll visit the Ready.gov website and study it carefully. If you need assistance with getting “tech ready,” ask a friend, family member, or trusted tech professional to help.

— Jacci O’Connor and Jay Woods own Davis Tech Teachers, www.davistechteachers.com.

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