Readers of this blog know that I am a big advocate of the potential of personal technology in helping the public prepare for and respond to emergencies, whether they be small everyday incidents or major disasters. So, I am very happy to see that the Wireless Foundation, the Wireless Association’s charitable arm, has just created a terrific new section of their web site presenting the many ways your cell phone and personal digital assistant (ie. Blackberry, Treo) can help you and your family in an emergency. The Wireless Foundation’s initiative is called the VITA Advisories, and it was produced in association with Boston-based Preparedness 2.0 guru David Stephenson. It builds upon the Foundation’s work on the AMBER Alerts and other public safety wireless notification programs.
There are tips on how to prepare your wireless device in advance of an emergency and then how to use it when an incident occurs. As the site correctly points out: “With a little planning, you can be ready to use your phone when you need it the most.” And, in many families (like mine), kids actually can help teach their parents about this subject. I am adding the Vita Advisories to my site’s Resources and recommend that everyone with a wireless device take a look at the tips at www.wirelessfoundation.org/VITAAdvisories/index.cfm.
I also would urge — and will do so personally when I have the opportunity — that every governmental and non-profit emergency preparedness site for the public should add these wireless tips immediately. There once were concerns about a digital divide when it came to wireless devices, but the proliferation of cell phones (the Wireless Association now estimates at over 260 million subscribers in the U.S. alone) means that should no longer be an obstacle. And in fact, the sheer number of users makes getting this information into people’s hands and phones even more important. Further, as cities and states increasingly develop email and text emergency alerts for their citizens, they need to better explain the great potential (and the limitations) of their personal communications technology in emergency situations. Creating a section on their websites with the tips listed in the Vita Advisories would be a great first step towards beginning that important education process.