Americans Increasingly Reach For Smartphones In Emergencies

A few decades ago, it was unimaginable for most of us. Would you have believed that even regular old middle-class people would have a device like the smartphone? It’s about the size of a pack of cards, with hours of battery life, and you can use it in a time of natural disaster to get the latest news, learn about road closings and emergency services, send mass updates to friends and loved ones, and maybe watch TV or play some games. In a pinch, it even makes phone calls. Yes, as long as cell towers are still up and you can charge the battery, a phone is an ideal companion in a natural disaster. The Red Cross confirmed that this week, releasing a survey of American adults that shows more of us are getting our emergency information in app form: then, presumably, playing Angry Birds.

People are relying less on traditional media outlets for their emergency information. 81% of poll respondents said that they relied on TV news for their information, compared to 90% of respondents last year. Fewer respondents said that they used online news as well, but there was a small increase in people using mobile apps to get information.

Of course, all of this social networking has a downside: people expect someone to answer their pleas for help sent via gadget. 36% of respondents said that they expect help to arrive within an hour after posting a plea via social media. The Red Cross, and common sense, point out that you’re better off calling 911 in the case of an actual emergency. You know, with the phone. That you have in your hand. That you’re using to ask for help on Facebook.

More Americans Using Mobile Apps in Emergencies [Red Cross]


Edit Your Comment

  1. evilpete says:

    smart phones are great for Emergencies untill the battery runs out in 1/2 an hour.

    • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

      You bought an HTC Desire too?

      • evilpete says:

        Nexus S

        • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

          Hm. Never heard any bad things about those. I’ve just been told Desires have awful power-management, as a general rule.

          • zz9 says:

            I had a Desire, and used an app killer app. Then read that they did more harm than good so stopped using it. Had to recharge every night but never had a problem. Now I have a One X and it’s far better. I have sometimes forgotten to charge it and it’s lasted two days with quite a fair bit of use, even though it has a far bigger screen.

            • CalicoGal says:

              I have an HTC Inspire 4G (same phone as the Desire; mine even says it is a Desire on the photo properties) and I agree that the battery life is dismal. I do not have access to it during the work day, and I keep mobile data turned off.
              I still have to charge it every other day.
              Other than that, however, it is a very nice phone.

    • remusrm says:

      this statement is so true… iphone 4s goes from 100-99% on the carged to 2% in 6.5 hrs

    • Kate Blue says:

      I have a battery case, so I’m good for at least 8 hours depending on how hard I am using it.

  2. Hi_Hello says:

    During the last emergency, none of the cell phone worked. Subways were shutdown without any notice.
    Everyone kept trying to call everyone, it wasn’t even a big emergency…but nothing work because the network couldn’t handle the load.

    I never heard radio stop working because too many people were listening to it.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      The radio can’t help me let my parents know I’m okay. Chances are, people are calling other people not just to get news, but to make sure their family and friends are safe.

      • VintageLydia says:

        Which reminds me I need to work on my ham license. My husband has one. We were inspired after our earthquake a couple years ago and phones were down for over 6 hours.
        So yes, a radio CAN let family members know if your safe so long as they know how to receive your transmissions. You can even transmit without a license in an emergency per the FCC.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        Which is why you should head for a landline in an emergency if you’re in a densely-populated area.

        On 9/11, there was little to no chance you were getting a cell call to go thorugh from NYC. But, if you wated in line at a pay phone, you could call whoever you wanted without issue.

      • StatusfriedCrustomer says:

        This is the problem right here. The person is calling his parents to elt them know he’s okay, at the same time the parents are frantically calling him to ask if he’s okay, and they both live in New York but the earthquake was in frigging California. THIS is why the cellphone networks “can’t handle the load”.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Who in their right mind expects to get help based on a tweet or a facebook status update, even if it’s directly to emergency services? Those people are stupid.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      There was a news story about that a while ago…I can’t remember if we covered it. let me find it.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Americans. And yes, we are stupid. Woefully so.

    • triana says:

      I remember a story about some girls that were trapped in a cave or underground or something, and they summoned help by Facebook posts. Maybe they didn’t have service, but I just assumed they never even tried to call.

      There was also a post on Failblog. Some girl took a picture on her phone of a house on fire, and posted it to Facebook with the caption “Somebody call 911!”

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        I have had occasions when I lacked decent cell service to sustain a phone call, but I could tweet, text, or send email. I imagine in that case, it’s acceptable to get help by a method other than phone call but if I had full bars and a 4G connection, I would definitely call 911 before posting to facebook that I needed help.

        • CalicoGal says:

          Or if you’re in some sort of situation where you cannot speak out loud— then text, Tweet, and FB post would be the best ways/

  4. eezy-peezy says:

    Ernest Shackleton, 2012 edition.

    “Hi, we’re stuck in the ice near Antarctica, can you send someone to come get us? Kthxbai.”

    Although having a cell phone is good in emergencies, I can’t help thinking we are wimpifying the human race.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Makes me think of the earthquake in Japan and the footage in the theater where parts of the cieling fell in and there were literally more people standing there filming those injured then people actually doing something to help them.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        That is so annoying. I saw a video online where there was a horrific accident and not ONE person went to the injured one and offered any comfort. There was nothing that could be done for him, but he was alive and it would have been at least decent to hold his hand or something.

        At least the people in the comments where the video was posted were upset about that. Shows some of them have compassion, anyway.

        • RandomLetters says:

          One of the hardest things I have ever done was hold a mans head up so he was able to breath after a bad auto accident. He was very badly injured and completely pinned in the small turck he had been riding in. I felt his last breath leave his body but still stood there until emergency personnel took over. I hope to never have to do it again but know if I had to I could and never during that time did I think I need to get my phone out and take video or pictures. When that’s a person response to something like that they definately need to have their head examined.

  5. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    If you have to put out an ad saying “It’s BEST to call 9-1-1”, you might as well just write those people off as not worth saving. They’re probably too busy taking pictures/video of whatever is killing them anyway.

    • Mr. Fix-It is trapped in a collection of half-working appliances says:

      “I’m not saying we should kill all the stupid people… I’m just saying if we removed all the warning labels, the problem might take care of itself…”

  6. ScandalMgr says:

    Has nobody every used a hand-crank generator?

    It doesn’t guarantee your cell network is functioning, but useful when you need to charge your radio, cell, Tee Vee, etc communication device, and with a multitude of connectors, you could charge almost anything.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      I’ve got a hundred mice tethered by copper wire to a mini-USB cord, such that in an emergency I can just plug that into my phone, and get all the mice on the carpet – where they’re held stationary by the cord, such that their scampering on the carpet just generates electricity for my phone.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      I have an AM/FM/shortwave/longwave receiver radio with weather channels that runs when you crank it, or on 4 AA batteries. I keep it handy when bad weather is forecast.

  7. snarfies says:

    Subject: Fire. “Dear Sir stroke Madam, I am writing to inform you of a fire which has broken out at the premises of…”

    No, that’s too formal.

    “Dear Sir stroke Madam. Fire, exclamation mark. Fire, exclamation mark. Help me, exclamation mark. 123 Carrendon Road. Looking forward to hearing from you. All the best, Maurice Moss.”

  8. triana says:

    We lost power for a few days after a huge storm. Without radio or TV, our phones were all we had. We were able to keep them charged for another day because of the UPSs we had for the desk tops, but they didn’t have enough juice to keep anything else powered for long. It’s kinda scary to be completely cut off from the news, especially when there’s an event that causes a lot of damage and affects power, transportation, and lots of local businesses. In our case, our phones were the only connection we had to the outside world.