North Dakota State University Disaster Phone Apps

Becky Koch

Becky was recognized as a White House Champion of Change in Community Resilience and Preparedness. 

The North Dakota State University Extension Service provides research-based education to help people improve their lives and communities. Programs focus on agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H youth development and community vitality. Disaster preparedness and recovery work is included in all of those subject matter areas.

In 2011, when smartphones first became popular and North Dakota was dealing with another flood, the NDSU Ag Communication staff brainstormed ways to use smartphones to educate people and support disaster preparedness and recovery.

That same day, an article in the local newspaper featured a startup company that had developed a phone app to inform local people about river levels and flood news. Myriad Devices, at the time, was a small startup in the NDSU Research and Technology Park incubator, formed when undergraduate students believed in the idea that mobile networks were the future. Myriad and NDSU Ag Communication immediately connected and have worked together on two disaster education phone apps so far.

The Winter Survival Kit app will help you find your current location, call 911, notify friends and family, calculate how long you can run your vehicle’s engine to keep warm, and learn how to stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning if you are stranded.  The Winter Survival Kit will alert you every 30 minutes to remind you to turn off the engine periodically and check your exhaust pipe for snow buildup. These alerts are critical in helping avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. The Winter Survival Kit also provides NDSU Extension Service information on how to put together a physical winter survival kit and prepare your vehicle for winter driving, and how to stay safe when stranded in a winter storm.

The Disaster Recovery Log app helps you record and recover from damage caused by flooding or other disasters by capturing photos to illustrate the flood damage. You can key in descriptions of damaged items or use the smartphone’s voice recorder to record a description of the damage. These details and photos can be exported for possible insurance and/or government reimbursement.

The Disaster Recovery Log also provides NDSU Extension Service information on how to clean or deal with flood-damaged appliances and electronics; carpets and floors; clothing and fabrics; food; furniture; gardens and landscapes; home structures; household items; mold; papers, books and photos; and water.

The two apps have more than 70,000 downloads. They are free – Winter Survival Kit for Android and iOS, and Disaster Recovery Log for Androids – and were funded with USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Smith-Lever Special Needs grants.

Since the 2011 release of these two disaster education apps, they have been promoted through social media, the Extension Disaster Education Network, other disaster agencies and organizations, and in many other ways. In the two years, Myriad Devices has grown exponentially and is recognized as a mobile technology leader, creating smartphone tools for businesses nationwide.

Becky Koch is the Agriculture Communication Director at North Dakota State University.

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