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REVIEW: FEMA app may be useful for upcoming hurricane season

FEMA's mobile app.
FEMA's mobile app.

With hurricane season officially starting Wednesday, Coast residents may want to consider downloading FEMA's mobile app.

The FEMA app contains a variety of features such as weather alerts, disaster-preparation tips, a portal to apply for disaster assistance or speak to FEMA officials, a map of nearby storm shelters and FEMA-recovery centers, and a "Disaster Reporter" page that allows the user to submit and share disaster-related photos.

The weather alerts seem particularly useful. The app allows users to add up to five locations to help them monitor National Weather Service alerts. And the tool to apply for disaster assistance can come in handy for anyone who may not have access to a computer in the aftermath of a disaster.

Though FEMA might be making an effort to connect with users through its "Disaster Reporter" feature, it may have a hard time attracting photo submissions as most people first turn to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for photo sharing. The maps for storm shelters and FEMA centers could see some use, depending on how difficult a simple Google search for shelter locations will be when a storm is imminent.

FEMA first launched its app in 2011, but the agency has since made updates, giving it a clean and easy-to-use interface. The app is free to download and takes up only 5.9 MB of memory.

The only inherent problem with a mobile app is it depends on network or WiFi coverage. If 2005's Hurricane Katrina taught us anything, it was that cell phone towers aren't stormproof. Though voice calls were nearly impossible to make and receive, some cell networks had somewhat reliable text-messaging services. Only the next disaster will tell if the FEMA app proves useful.

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