Your smartphone is a powerful communication tool in an emergency. You can use your smartphone to:

Receive Alerts

  • In many places, you can sign up to receive emergency alerts that let you know when there is a threat to health or safety in your area. The alerts typically cover events such as flooding, severe weather and critical police activity. You can sign up to receive email, voice or text messages. Search the Web for alerts available in your city or county, or contact your local emergency management agency.
  • The Red Cross, FEMA and others have apps that allow you to get alerts related to extreme events such as hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes.
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are free messages sent to cell phones within range of potentially dangerous situations. You automatically receive alerts if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless carrier participates in the program. Check with your wireless provider to find out if you have a phone that receives WEA alerts.

Stay Connected During an Emergency

  • You can text family and friends to let them know how you are and where you are. You may be able to update your Facebook page and other social media with your current status. If you have internet access, you can use the American Red Cross Safe and Well site or Google Person Finder to connect with others.
  • Local emergency management, public health departments and law enforcement may tweet about the current situation and response activities. Use your Twitter account to follow them.

Learn About Preparedness

  • Apps are available from the Red Cross and others that can walk you step-by-step through first aid procedures or help you learn how to prepare and respond to emergency situations. There are many other useful apps on the Red Cross site and on other sites.
  • Tweeted preparedness information is provided by FEMA, the Red Cross, and many other organizations. Your local government, public health and emergency preparedness agencies are another good source of tweeted information.

Things You Can Do Now

  • Know how to text.
  • Know how to post to your Facebook or other social media accounts from your phone.
  • Subscribe to Twitter.
  • Keep updated contacts in your phone as well as on paper.
  • Have an extra battery for your phone. Get a solar, hand-cranked or car charger for your phone.
  • Find out if your mobile device can receive Wireless Emergency Alerts.
  • Sign up for text and/or email alerts from your local emergency management agency.
  • Sign up for listservs and alerts from your workplace, schools, houses of worship or other community organizations you'll want to hear from in an emergency.

In an Emergency Remember:

  • Text often works when voice does not. (Establish group text lists.)
  • Conserve your cell battery (Don't play games or stream video. Turn your phone off when not expecting a call. Dim your display. Turn off unneeded apps.)
  • Limit calls and keep them brief to keep the network clear for 9-1-1 and other essential calls.
  • Wait 10 seconds before redialing.
  • You may or may not be able to get cell service immediately after an event.

External Links

  • Red Cross apps—For first aid, emergency notifications and planning information.
  • FEMA app—Providess disaster safety tips, an interactive emergency kit list, emergency meeting location information, and a map with open shelters and open FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers.
  • Red Cross Contact Loved Ones page—a webpage designed to help you connect with those you care about when you are separated by a disaster.
  • Google Person Finder—questions and answers about this service launched after major disasters.

Other languages

DOH publication number 821-084
Reviewed annually