The American Red Cross: Using Mobile Technologies to Save Lives

June 13, 2014
Matt Goldfeder, Senior Director of Individual Preparedness at the Red Cross is pictured with screen images of the Wildfire app
Matt Goldfeder, Senior Director of Individual Preparedness at the Red Cross is pictured with screen images of the Wildfire app

By Natasha Marstiller, Public Affairs Specialist

The American Red Cross is known for providing shelter, food, and health services to help individuals, families, and entire communities during and after disasters and emergency situations. On average, the American Red Cross helps more than 160 million people a year through disaster management and disease prevention activities and has nearly 400,000 volunteers across the globe. Another impressive statistic: the organization has launched nine mobile apps that have achieved 4.8 million downloads in the last two years.

FirstNet had the opportunity to chat with Matt Goldfeder, Senior Director of Individual Preparedness at the Red Cross, about the organization’s mobile technology strategies. “The apps have done a pretty decent job keeping the Red Cross relevant in people's mindset through the use of technology when they need it most,” Matt told FirstNet. “We want citizens to listen to their local authorities and it’s important for individuals to be able to make informed decisions.”

He says all of the Red Cross apps are science-evidenced based and were developed with input from their Scientific Advisory Council. Some of the apps were developed for “every day” usage and provide safety tools, tips, and preparedness information about topics such as first aid and water safety.

There are also six “Natural Disaster” focused apps that provide emergency information before, during, and after natural disasters, as well as to support the recovery from natural disasters – including earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, tornados, and wildfires. He says that many emergency management agencies and public safety professionals use the apps and recommended them to their teams and other personnel.

The Red Cross uses social media to promote awareness of the apps and overall preparedness in general. He says that local agencies use awareness months or current incidents to highlight the potential benefits of using a specific app. For example, he says the wildfire app has been drawing interest given the dangerous fire season that has been taking place on the west coast. Social media has been an effective way to coordinate and share wildfire information. Users of the Red Cross wildfire app with connectivity can access aggregated links to the most relevant authorities and their mobile web content sites, including Twitter feeds and other online sources.

“Even if a user is offline, they can access essential information embedded into the app,” he says. “Each one also has quizzes to help everyone learn to be prepared. When you pass the quizzes you can share the badges socially which also creates app awareness.”

The organization has a dedicated communications team that manages their social media presence from a state of the art control center at the Red Cross headquarters in Washington, DC. When they deliver a new app to the public, they use the unique capabilities of their Regional Chapter Network to conduct outreach and engage stakeholders at the local level. The Red Cross apps are not only useful, but popular and “cool” as well. The hurricane app ranked #2 on iTunes, and the tornado app ranked #14 and #16.

More importantly, the technology is saving lives. Many government officials tweeted about the Red Cross apps before, during, and after Superstorm Sandy. Matt says there are also many stories of people effectively using the app’s functions to help themselves stay safe during disasters.

The Red Cross encourages everyone – members of the public and first responders - to learn more about these user-friendly apps to be prepared for emergencies and other potential disasters. Information about each of the products is available on the Red Cross website at http://www.redcross.org/prepare/mobile-apps or they can be downloaded for free by simply searching Red Cross in Google Play or Apple’s App Store.

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