When it comes disaster preparedness, “analog” supplies — food, batteries, water, blankets and the like — are the first things that come to mind. While these staples are cornerstones for survival, it’s helpful to remember that smartphones and tablets aren’t just for texting and playing Candy Crush. In fact, with the help of a few apps, they can become life-saving tools in the event of a hurricane, flood, earthquake or other disaster.

Here are a few apps to consider downloading before a disaster strikes.


FEMA app screenshot

This is the official app of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the government office charged with emergency response to natural hazards. In addition to general preparedness information, the app offers interactive checklists, a section for planning post-disaster meeting areas, and a map to locate FEMA shelters and recovery centers. There’s also a Disaster Reporter feature, which allows users to take and submit photos of disasters to be displayed on a public map.

The app is user friendly, with a simple interface and versions in English and Spanish. It’s free for iOS and Android.

Red Cross disaster apps

You may have read about the First Aid app from the Red Cross, but the agency has lots of other apps that can help in the event of a natural disaster. Visit their site and you can download apps to help you deal with tornadoes, wildfire, earthquakes, hurricanes and floods. There's also a shelter-finder app that can help you find a safe place to be if your home is damaged or in the path of impending damage.

The apps are all free and available for iOS and Android.

red cross survival app screenshot

Emergency Survival Kit – Tornado, Hurricane, Earthquake Aid

Cell phone service can be sketchy during emergencies, with networks inundated by people trying to reached loved ones. And for disaster survivors, reception and WiFi access may limited, and preserving battery power, paramount.

The beauty of this free app (for iOS only) is that it lets you communicate your location and status via alarms, text, email, Twitter and Facebook, without ever leaving the app. This means you can send the most important information to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. You’re more likely to get the help you need, while your friends and family receive updates about your whereabouts.

emergency survival app screenshot

Emergency Radio by EdgeRift emergency radio app screenshot 

When moments matter, early awareness of area hazards can make a world of difference. This police scanner app broadcasts from an extensive database of live first-responder radio frequencies. It includes feeds from police and fire departments, air and railroad traffic, the U.S. coast guard, and more. Use the in-app search engine or the advanced map view to find the radio frequencies nearest your home, and you’ll be able to listen in on live, developing action.

If you’ve listened to police scanners before, you’ll know that it can be difficult to decipher agency code and jargon. This app helps remove confusion by providing metadata when available, meaning you can see what/who you’re listening to. It also has a built-in list of police scanner codes. The downside? The database focuses on high population areas, so local information may not be available in rural areas. Parents should be aware that these feeds could include explicit content, like drug and violent crime references.

A “lite” version of this app is free. The full version costs $1.99. It's available for iOS only.

Weather Radio by WDTweather radio app screenshot 

Weather Radio is a comprehensive weather app with local forecasts, radar, alerts, real-time streaming audio, interactive mapping, and more. Weather Radio partners with the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and other major brands to provide the highest-level reports available.

The app tracks your location, monitors your area, and enables you to receive critical alerts and push notifications in the event of a life-threatening weather event. The patented alert system is what elevates it over other weather apps. Users will receive only the most accurate and relevant alerts, set to their own preferences. You can set an alarm to wake you in the event of a cataclysmic event, without worrying that you’ll be plagued by irrelevant warnings.

The app costs $4.99 and is available for iOS or Android.

Michael Franco is a science and technology writer who secretly wishes he was an astronaut. His work has appeared in CNET, HowStuffWorks.com and Discover Magazine.