Many apps on the market warn users about incoming natural disasters like earthquakes or floods, and Microsoft's new HelpBridge app is one that you should add to your preparedness list.
Available on Android, iPhone and Windows Phone, Microsoft HelpBridge allows you to contact your emergency contacts in bulk, to let them know whether you're OK or in need help. The app is a free download, available in the U.S. only, and it's not a 911 emergency service replacement.
To use the app, you need to sign in with your Microsoft or Facebook account. It then looks through your phone contacts and lets you select family and friends as your emergency contacts. You can set up separate lists for friends, family and acquaintances.
The app has two main options in case of an emergency. If you have been affected and need help, you press the "I need help" on-screen button and it will allow you to send a message to your emergency contacts groups, via Facebook, e-mail and SMS. You can also attach your location to the message. The same options apply if you want to send a message to say "I'm OK."
Microsoft's HelpBridge app also has a higher purpose: it allows you to donate money or time to charities. You can text to give money straight from the app via SMS, or via PayPal. There is also a section with information to donate goods or volunteer, too. A number of nearby opportunities are displayed at the top, or you can search for charities and causes you can donate to near you.
Here's a video from Microsoft with a demo of the app.
"Mobile phones have become one of the key tools for people in disaster affected areas to communicate, not only with their friends, but also with first responders. The simpler we can make it for people to let others know if they are fine or if they need assistance, the more likely they are of being able to get that information out," said Gisli Olaffson, emergency response director of NetHope.
There are also other apps that could be useful to have on your phone in case of an emergency. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a free app for Android, iPhone and Windows Phone with preparedness information for different types of disasters, an interactive checklist for emergency kits and information on how to stay safe and recover after a disaster. For other emergency situations, you might also want to look at Red Panic Button app foriPhone ($2.99) andAndroid (free), which sends an SMS message with a link to your location on Google Maps when you press the panic button.