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Apps, gadgets part of high-tech emergency kit makeover

April 25, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, almost 700,000 people in Los Angeles were without power, gas or phone service.

Water lines broke, leaving 40,000 people without water, and ruptured gas mains created fire dangers all over the city.

So many were caught off guard, and not prepared at all.

During Superstorm Sandy, Lori Cheek found herself in a scary situation -- alone, at home, and feeling isolated.

"There was no power. There was no phone signal. I couldn't get on the Internet," she said.

Thankfully, Cheek realized she had enough food and water for a few days, and a solar-powered radio.

"If I can't get in touch with anyone, I can at least know what's going on around me, find a safe place to go," she said.

But now, experts say, you may need more than that to wait out a crisis. Apps and gadgets are now competing for space among traditional supplies. High-tech kits offer up everything from lights to lifelines.

"High-tech items can help you stay in touch with family members, can allow you to tell everyone in your social network that you're safe," said Anne Marie Borrego with the American Red Cross.

In fact, the bombing attack in Boston last week illustrated all too well how important it is to get the word out that you're okay. While cellphones for people in Boston didn't work, texting and apps using the Internet did.

Apps from the American Red Cross not only help you reach family members, but in the case of an earthquake, for example, they'll alert you after an aftershock, and even tell you where the nearest shelter is.

Their first aid app will walk you through everything from bandages to burns and is integrated with 911. And their apps are all free.

"Tornado App, Hurricane App, Wildfire App, and Earthquake App, all designed to help people manage their way through those disasters and also prepare for them," said Borrego.

If the electricity is out, how will you stay charged? Cordless battery chargers can now keep your smartphone or tablet powered for days. You can also buy an inexpensive backup cellphone that's charged by a AA battery. Even the old-school crank radio has received an upgrade.

"You can use regular batteries with it. It has a rechargeable battery that you can charge via a hand crank or a solar panel, so there are three ways to keep it powered up," said Dan Ackerman with CNET.

The radio is made by Eton and comes in the FRX2 model and FRX3 model.

Pop-up LED lanterns last 100 hours and can fit in a small bag. You can also turn your water bottle into a lantern with a new, unique cap.

"It's got a solar panel on the top and a lamp on the bottom, so it soaks up solar power and stores it. If the lights go out, it'll turn on, and you can use it like a flashlight," said Ackerman.

Make sure you check every month to make sure the items in your kit are fully charged, and store them where you can find them easily.

"...In maybe a waterproof plastic box or case, or the individual battery backup items, you can seal them in plastic bags," said Ackerman.

Cheek's stash of supplies helped her ride out the storm safely, and continues to give her peace of mind.

"You never know what's going to happen and it's better to be prepared," she said.

Of course, you shouldn't substitute tech tools for disaster kit basics, like food, water, batteries, and first aid. Don't forget about medications or pet food, if you have one. Make sure you store enough for each person for three days.


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