Disaster App Takeover: Digital Preparedness for Earthquakes

Is it possible for a disaster app on your smartphone to warn you about an earthquake before it happens?

The April 5th, 2018 5.3 magnitude Los Angeles quake is proof of that possibility. Those who had signed up for the Quake Alert disaster app reported a warning thirty seconds before the shaking started. Likewise, early warning systems warned Mexico residents sixty seconds before the 8-magnitude earthquake last September. The science may not be perfect yet, but these warnings could prevent some injuries and give first-responders an edge.

Every Disaster App You Need for Before, During, and After the Quake.

There are dozens of natural disaster apps out there to help you in a bind or warn you about dangers. You’ll need at least a few basics in your pocket if you live in earthquake country. Take your preparedness to the next step with this list of apps that you’ll be glad to have:


Disaster Apps to Reconnect
Get reconnected with loved ones after a natural disaster.

Yes, Facebook is definitely somewhere to get your fill of cat videos, the latest news (real or fake), and relatable memes, but it’s also an excellent app to have after an emergency. Facebook has a Safety Check feature so that you can let your loved ones know that you’re safe after an earthquake or another natural disaster. The app will even send a push notification to remind you about this Safety Check feature based on your GPS location. As soon as you’re safe, be sure to mark yourself safe in the app.


If Facebook isn’t your thing, Nextdoor is another great social media app that can help you after a disaster. Nextdoor is an online community for your neighborhood and surroundings. Officials use Nextdoor to quickly communicate crucial information to their community. You can expect to see messages from policy, sheriff’s offices, and first responders in this app. Likewise, Twitter has been used as a communication platform for emergencies.


An incredibly valuable app, ReUnite does just that–it helps you to reunite with loved ones if you are separated from them during a natural disaster. You can report lost or found people with a photo and their information with a few simple steps.

First Aid by American Red Cross

First Aid Disaster Apps
These disaster apps will help when you need some quick first-aid advice in a panic.

The Red Cross has developed a few apps that are great to have on hand for emergencies. One of these apps is First Aid is an absolute necessity. It gives you simple step-by-step directions on first aid response for any medical emergency, and this is crucial guidance if you live in a disaster-prone area. If there’s one disaster app you should have, it’s this one.

Ice Standard ER 911

ICE Standard ER 911 puts all your vital health and medical information on your smartphone’s lock screen. First responders can use this information even if you’re too injured to answer these questions for yourself. Some phones have this capability built into the operating software, such as the Apple “Health” app, so make sure your health profile is completed if you decide to skip on this third-party disaster app.

Pet First Aid

Let’s not forget about our furry companions! For pet owners, a mobile app that gives step-by-step instructions on how to tackle 25 common pet problems is a huge help. This app provides directions through text, video, and images, and can even locate the nearest emergency vet hospital.

Disaster Alert

Earthquake Alert Disaster Apps
These apps will help with a warning when an earthquake is coming or send an alert when you need help.

This app by the Pacific Disaster Center gives you mobile access to monitoring of natural disasters and other hazards. It also has early warning capability for hazards around the globe.

SirenGPS Mobile

This emergency app can give first responders information on your whereabouts much faster than dialing for 911 assistance. If your community uses Siren 911, emergency crews will get updates on your location, profile details, and medical information–all at the touch of one button.

Red Panic Button

This app is a fantastic addition to your smartphone, whether or not you live in an earthquake-prone area. Essentially, this app generates a message or email containing your GPS-determined coordinates to a designated panic number of your choice. Backpackers, travel-enthusiasts, and earthquake preppers alike will all be thankful to have this function added to their tools.

My Earthquake Alerts & Feed

This free earthquake disaster app provides earthquake alerts for around the world events. These alerts include earthquakes of 1.0 and up in the United States and 4.0 and up outside of the United States.


Disaster Apps for the Earthquake Aftermath
These are helpful for the short and long-term recovery.

After an earthquake or catastrophe, you’ll likely have quite a few people needing to know where you are and when you’ve gotten to safety. Once the dust has settled and you’re on your way to safety, this disaster app will track your movements and automatically send updates to your selected contacts list to let others know when you’ve arrived at your intended evacuation destination.


This disaster app allows you to use your phone as a two-way radio or walkie-talkie. You can join channels and send instant voice messages or photos using your phone’s network or WiFi connection–even with an older 2G network connection. For more information on how this app works, Business Insider provides this tour of the Zello interface and how to use it.


This may be a small detail, but it’s a pretty big deal after an emergency event. You won’t be able to evacuate if you can’t find any gas to put in your car. GasBuddy helps you to locate the closest working gas pump.

FEMA Disaster App

FEMA has developed a handy disaster app that is a valuable resource after a crisis. This mobile-friendly (and free!) guide will help you find relief centers near you with access to services, shelter, and other resources for victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters.

Earthquake App by the American Red Cross

The Red Cross earthquake app is like the Swiss Army knife of earthquake applications. It includes step-by-step directions on what to do during and after an earthquake. Even better, these directions are available for offline use so you won’t need an internet connection to get this info at your fingertips. It also connects with the USGS earthquake alert feed to notify you if an earthquake strikes nearby. Finally, there is a safety alert feature built in that shares a message to social media and through email and text to let others know that you’re safe.

Disaster Apps are Essential to Modern-Day Earthquake Preparedness.

First responders are limited in their resources after an earthquake or another natural disaster. Smartphone technology makes it easier for them to connect with the community. When you consider your earthquake preparedness strategy, remember to include these apps as some helpful (and portable) tools in your emergency kit.

Digital Preparedness is the New Earthquake Readiness Kit

Earthquake and disaster planning often overlook digital preparedness. Conversely, it’s one of the most straightforward ways of preparing for emergencies of any kind. Above all, digital preparedness sets a goal that is both attainable and practical.

Last year we saw how critical technology is in the midst of a disaster. Hurricanes Irma and Harvey blasted through the southern United States in 2017, and disaster apps and social media networks became essential instruments during and after the hurricanes. Likewise, expect first responders and your family to reach for their smartphones and computers after an earthquake.

Beyond having the best apps for communicating with loved ones, what does it mean to have your tech ready for an emergency? Maybe you’ve spent hours printing out emergency contact lists, or you’ve carefully filed a safety deposit box, but that may be wasted effort if you can’t access that same information when you’ve evacuated your home.

Why You Need to Make Digital Preparedness your 2018 #Goals.

Rock, paper, scissors: the game of earthquake digital preparedness
Earthquake preparedness includes using all the resources you can.

A digital disaster kit only takes a day to put together, and it will save you weeks of stress after a disaster strikes your home.

Think of digital preparedness like a game of “rock, paper, scissors,” except you’ve added in “smartphone” as a fourth option. This game doesn’t work unless you have all options available to you, but each option is only the winning choice if the circumstances are just right. If you’ve started your emergency first-aid kit, that’s great–you’ve got “scissors” covered (the physical means to prepare). If you’ve started your financial first-aid kit or financial preparedness planning, you’ve got paper covered (the financial, legal, and administrative aspects of preparation). Mother Nature will bring the “rock,” and you’ll be sorely disappointed if your toolkit is lacking the brains of the operation: your smartphone.

When it comes to earthquakes, rock beats paper and scissors every time.

Digital Preparedness gives you the ability to access necessary files, documents, and information at any time and where ever you are. If an earthquake strikes and you don’t have the time to grab your data or you’re away from home, you’ve got digital copies on your phone ready for your use. Furthermore, loading up your smartphone with some essential disaster apps will help you reconnect with loved ones, get disaster updates, teach first-aid tips, and walk you through earthquake aftermath recovery.

Start with a Digital Disaster Kit.

If you’re like most people, your smartphone is your preferred storage device of choice. It’s portable and practically attached to your hip at least most of the day (or all of it, no judgment). If you want to go the extra mile, have two forms of digital storage. For example,

  1. A mobile device, such as smartphone or tablet and
  2. A flash drive or external hard drive

There are a few reasons to have multiple storage locations. First of all, two kinds of storage may make you feel more secure. Secondly, a backup will give you access to these documents if your mobile device is inaccessible. However, if you choose an internet-based storage method, be aware of the inherent risks and practice extreme caution with the security of your account(s).

The American Red Cross recommends using your mobile storage device as a digital disaster kit. You’ll need to put these in storage on your mobile device for a complete digital library:

  • Current or recent photos of family members and pets. This will help if you need to identify or locate a family member after the earthquake.
  • Copies of personal identification records, such as driver’s licenses or passports.
  • Critical personal and financial records. This may include a list of credit cards and lending institutions plus the contact information for them.
  • Medical cards and medical information for each family member. Include any allergy or immunization records.
  • Veterinarian records (if applicable). Include your pet’s vaccination records and the contact information for their veterinarian, reliable shelters, and pet-friendly hotels or accommodations.
  • Copies of vital records, including:
    • Social Security Cards
    • Birth and marriage certificates
    • Wills, living wills, medical directives, trusts, and power of attorney paperwork
    • Property and personal insurance policies, paperwork, and documents.
    • Deeds to property or properties
    • Lists of household contents and personal property

Earthquake Myths Explained: 9 Ways Fiction Got it Wrong

If you were to search the internet for “Earthquake Movies,” you may (or may not) be surprised with how many results you’ll find. San AndreasApocalypse, and 10.5 are three recent films that paint a grim story of the likely earthquake and the speculative aftermath. Is Hollywood onto something, or do these movies push more earthquake myths than fact?

Earthquake Myths Explained
Earthquake science can be both fascinating and easily misunderstood.

Hollywood may get some things right and other things wrong when it comes to earthquake science. How much of the hype should you believe? We know that a massive earthquake is overdue for the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. What happens when an earthquake of cinematic scale strikes? These earthquake myths and facts will set the record straight.

Earthquake Myths and Facts

Earthquake Myth 1Myth 1: “Stand in a doorway when an earthquake strikes.”

Fact: Perhaps this was once an accepted practice, or maybe an old wives’ tale, but now experts firmly discourage standing in a doorway during a quake. Modern building practices make the doorway no safer than any other part of the house. The door, as it swings on its hinges, is likely to strike you and injure you. A doorway also doesn’t protect you from falling objects and debris, and, instead of protecting your head and neck, you’ll be holding onto the doorframe trying to stay in place. Forget this myth, and take cover under a table or a sturdy surface.

Earthquake Myth 2Myth 2: “Earthquakes only happen late at night or early in the morning.”

Fact: Earthquakes can and do happen any time of the day or night. People are more likely to remember the ones that either fit a specific pattern or surprised them the most. However, earthquakes happen throughout the day, and not all are as memorable or noticeable.

Earthquake Myth 3Myth 3: “Earthquake faults can swallow people and buildings.”

Fact: This is one of the big Hollywood earthquake myths. Sometimes, writers have used earthquake faults to do-away with a character, like taking quicksand to a whole new level. The science of earthquake faults is simple: earthquakes are caused by friction. Friction is caused by objects rubbing together. If the ground could move away from a fault (instead of across a fault), the fault would open up. If the fault opens up, there is no friction. No friction means no earthquake.

Earthquake Myth 4Myth 4: “California is going to break off from the United States and sink into the ocean.”

Fact: Californians may laugh about this one, but this earthquake myth is pervasive throughout the United States. Experts on plate tectonics have determined that the motion of the plates located on the West Coast have eliminated this threat. In fact, western California is moving horizontally along the San Andreas fault and up and around the mountains to the northeast of the Los Angeles basin. This means that the land on both sides of the San Andreas fault is moving closer together, not farther apart. Finally, the ocean is not a giant hole for the ground to fall into– instead, there’s just more land with water above it.

Earthquake Myth 5Myth 5: “Buildings are good because we have building codes.”

Fact: Unless we are checking codes regularly, it is not likely that the building is earthquake-ready. This means we have more old buildings that are in need of updates. Retrofitting is the responsibility of the building’s owner. Checking to make sure your building has been retrofitted to code can save lives.

Earthquake Myth 6Myth 6: “Earthquakes can be predicted by the weather.”

Fact: This is another earthquake myth because the source of the shaking starts far below the surface of the land. The surface weather has little to do with the chance of an earthquake. Human bias has continued this myth: the weather on the day of the earthquake coincidently fits a biased pattern, and that pattern is conveniently remembered and applied to future instances.

Earthquake Myth 7Myth 7: “Animals can predict an earthquake.”

Fact: This is half-myth and half-truth. There isn’t any evidence that can prove this theory without a doubt. People have been able to observe some behavior changes in animals before earthquakes, but these changes haven’t been consistent enough to make a definitive connection between animals and earthquakes.

Earthquake Myth 8Myth 8: “Earthquakes are more frequent now.”

Fact: Lack of evidence debunks this earthquake myth. Our ability to measure earthquakes with advances in science and technology has made us more aware of earthquakes previously unnoticed.

Earthquake Myth 9Myth 9: “We can predict earthquakes.”

Fact: This is one of the earthquake myths that we hope is true one day. Scientists attempt to calculate the possibility of earthquakes using patterns and research. However, there is no true scientific way to determine when an earthquake will occur.  Because of this uncertainty, seismologists, government officials, insurance companies, and researchers all encourage individuals to be proactive when it comes to safety and preparedness. We don’t know exactly when the next earthquake will strike, but we do know that it will happen. Your role in preparedness could save lives, prevent your financial ruin, and keep you safe.

Want more earthquake myths and facts?

Check out USGS’s Earthquake Facts and Earthquake Fantasy for more earthquake facts you should know if you live in earthquake country.

Community Preparedness and Why it Matters

Beyond preparing your home and your finances for the next disaster, there are ways you can become involved in your community’s preparedness plan. Why? The reasons are simple:

  • You are the only help available right after an earthquake.
  • Lack of preparation could make you and your family a burden upon valuable resources.

How long will it take for help to arrive? Estimating the response time is hard. Due to the possibility of significant infrastructure damage coupled with an enormous number of people needing help, it isn’t likely that emergency response teams will arrive quickly. Response strategies have changed, improved even, in the last 24 years since the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake. However, officials strongly encourage a community effort to support the emergency response teams.

If you’re interested in getting more involved in your community’s preparedness plan, and, furthermore, helping out during a crisis, here are some ways you can become more proactive.

Community Preparedness Matters
After an earthquake, you are your neighbor’s first responder.

Supporting Community Emergency Teams

Citizens on Patrol

Citizens on Patrol (COP) is a program that allows citizens over the age of 21 to become volunteer policeman during a crisis. Your duties would include assistance with traffic control, emergency stations, patrolling neighborhoods, and some administrative work.

Citizen Fire Academy

Similar to the COP, Citizen Fire Academy is a program that allows citizens to get some of the training that the fire department members receive. This training provides community members the opportunity to gain experience in fire and life safety procedures. Depending on your community program, you may even have the chance to ride along with on-duty emergency responders during emergency calls.

In addition to essential fire and safety training, Fire Core program volunteers help with prevention and education measures. This includes installation of smoke detectors, training children in fire safety, and coordinating with fire personnel during a crisis.

Community Emergency Response Team (CERT)

This FEMA-backed program helps to educate individuals on disaster preparedness. Besides that, the program trains people in necessary response skills to support their communities in crisis. CERT training can include fire safety, search and rescue, team organization skills, and disaster medical operations. As a national program, CERT provides a consistent and thorough approach to assisting emergency responders. Even more, you can take training classes throughout the year with CERT. Training includes emergency response skills range from individual preparedness to community preparedness and awareness. Occasionally, CERT volunteers assist with non-emergent tasks.  With over 2,700 local CERT programs across the country, finding a local organization to expand your preparedness skills is one of the best ways to help your community.

Ham Radio Clubs

After a major disaster, you may not have much luck with your cell phone as a means of communication. Between damaged infrastructure, an overwhelming call surge, and the number of users clogging up the networks, you could be left stranded without a way to communicate with the outside world. Joining a Ham Radio club is an excellent way to learn about alternative communication methods. Ham Radio can be used virtually anywhere and does not require the use of the internet or cellular signals.

Supporting other Community Members

First Aid Training

CPR training and basic first-aid skills are vital to community preparedness. Consequently, your skills could provide valuable extra time for emergency response teams or streamline the triage process for emergency response teams. The American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and other Citizen Corps affiliates offer CPR and first-aid training for the public.

“You are the Help Until Help Arrives” Program (Until Help Arrives)

“You are the Help Until Help Arrives” is a government-backed program that educates and empowers community members to take action by providing lifesaving care before the emergency responders arrive. Until Help Arrives has online and in-person training sessions so that citizens can respond quickly and, potentially, save a life after an earthquake or another disaster. Furthermore, this training could make a difference for you when preparing your family for earthquakes safety.

Disaster Relief Organizations

After a disaster, there will be a massive demand for resources beyond emergency responders. You can volunteer for organizations that support the community in other ways. Two such organizations are:

Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers food to senior citizens who may not have emergency supplies ready for a disaster. Likewise, volunteering for community food banks helps provide resources and supplies during a time when food may be scarce.

Start a Preparedness Group for your Neighbors

Above all, it is a good practice for you and your neighbors to have an earthquake response plan. Preparation may include creating a phone tree or attending a training program together. The more self-sufficient you and your neighborhood can be, the more efficient emergency response teams can be during a crisis.

Community Preparedness Resources

For more information, this toolkit may help map out detailed steps to a community preparedness strategy. As always, the best way to help your community is to first prepare yourself and your family for the next earthquake.

The Mega-Quake Monster of Southern California

Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine what a colossal earthquake can do. Sure, there are plenty of creative interpretations in literature and cinema. What would a mega-quake do for a modern-day California city like Los Angeles?

The results would be catastrophic. It may not be what we see in the movies, but the reality would be heart-wrenching to consider.

Southern California Mega-Quake is Coming
The San Andreas Fault is a ticking time bomb for the next mega-earthquake

Modern-Day Mega-Quakes of 2017

For a modern-day example, all we need to do is to review the 2017 year of natural disasters that plagued the world.

The most significant earthquakes of last year were the 8.2 magnitude and 7.1 magnitude Mexico quakes and the 7.3 Iran-Iraq quake. The three earthquakes leveled buildings and resulted in a staggering number of deaths. The deadliest quake of 2017, resulting in 1,232 deaths, was the Iran-Iraq earthquake.

On September 7th, 2017, the 8.2 magnitude Mexico earthquake struck off the southern coast. It was the largest to strike the country in almost a century. Another 7.1 magnitude earthquake happened 11 days after the first 8.2 magnitude quake. The 7.1 magnitude quake was closer to Mexico City.  Hundreds more perished in the second quake. Similar to California and the Pacific Northwest, Mexico has its fair share of seismic activity that has caused horrific damage and injury. This massive earthquake was a terrible reminder that big quakes don’t come often, but they can happen with devastating impact.

The Mega-Quake of the Future

Scientists have said that Southern California could experience a similar earthquake as massive as 7 to 8 magnitude. Because the last mega-quake was in 1857, it’s only a matter of time before the next quake ruptures the San Andreas fault. The USGS predicts that the San Andreas Fault has a 22% chance of a 6.7 or greater magnitude earthquake by 2043.

Imagine that every city in Southern California from Palm Springs to San Luis Obispo is damaged or completely destroyed. The experience of an 8-magnitude quake is only imaginable, but not outside the realm of possibilities considering the area’s last mega-quake in 1857 reached an estimated 7.8 magnitude tremor. Of course, that was when the cities were not the developed metropolises of today.

How would a Southern California Mega-Quake be different?

"The Big One" Mega Earthquake
Southern California is overdue for the next megaquake.

The shaking would be more intense.

The 8.2 Mexico quake struck under the ocean and in a sparsely populated area. People in inland cities did not experience the full force of the “violent” shaking that the 8-magnitude quake unleashed. If the San Andreas fault ruptured at a similar magnitude, the shaking could start at the Salton Sea and run north to Monterey County. A San Andreas Fault earthquake would be much shallower and run right through counties like Riverside, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. The fault is, after all, only 30 miles away from downtown Los Angeles.

To get a better idea of the comparison between the Mexico earthquake and how it would feel in Los Angeles, the Northridge earthquake of 1994 is the best example of how a shallow and powerful quake could shake a neighborhood. The 2017 Mexico quakes registered higher magnitudes, but the shallowness and closeness of the Northridge quake make the two events similar in their perceived intensity for residents.

All in all, an 8-magnitude earthquake in Los Angeles would feel more intense than both the 2017 Mexico earthquakes and the 1994 Northridge quake.

The initial impact and resulting damage would create a higher death toll.

The USGS performed a study in 2008 to understand how deadly an earthquake of this size and location would be. This study was called the ShakeOut Scenario. This study estimated that as many as 1,800 people could perish from the combined initial shock and resulting infrastructure damage. It would rank as one of the worst natural disasters in United States history. Of that 1,800, half of the death toll would result from fires. Los Angeles County would have the largest number of casualties, and 50,000 more people would be injured.

A mega-quake would isolate Southern California.

First of all, the Southern California region is surrounded by mountains and earthquake faults. The network of dangerous terrain and crisscrossed fault lines would make evacuation extremely difficult. A mega-quake would damage major roadways to the east that cross the San Andreas fault. A vehicle would not be able to navigate these damaged roads.

Secondly, the area would lose 88% of its water supply from damaged aqueducts crossing the fault. Pipelines carrying natural gas and gasoline would break which would provide the perfect fuel for explosions after a spark. The smaller fires would merge into larger fires. First responders wouldn’t have the water supply to extinguish the infernos.

Larger buildings or older buildings may completely collapse and leave great numbers of people without housing. A recent study found that as many as 1,000,000 people could be displaced by a mega-quake, and there would be no solution to house all of these victims.

Most of the western United States would lose access to power for several days. Surrounding areas may have power restored, but the infrastructure damage would make it difficult to make quick repairs. Overall, you’ve got a pretty poor combination of limited access to solutions, resources, and outside help.

 Prepare for the Mega-Quake.

When will we see a quake of this size? Unfortunately, there is no way to say when this mega-quake will strike. We do know that the area is overdue for a large-scale earthquake–given the amount of time since the last “big one”–but the variability of 60 to 300 years that lapse between large earthquakes makes it difficult to pinpoint a practical pattern. In the past, Southern California has had a large quake every 110 to 114 years. The tectonic plates that caused the 2017 Mexico earthquakes are not the same as the plates that comprise the San Andreas Fault, but it is the same kind of tectonic forces that are building friction underneath Southern California.

While it could take decades for cities to properly prepare for an earthquake of this size, homeowners can take steps now to become prepared for the worst. Retrofitting your home, learning how to stay safe during an earthquake, keeping supplies ready to survive while you wait for assistance, and securing earthquake insurance for your home are four steps that will significantly help after a mega-quake.