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Apps and tips for coping with Hurricane Sandy


All of us in the northeast US (which includes myself and TUAW colleagues Megan Lavey-Heaton, Dave Caolo and Kelly Hodgkins) are keeping a wary weather eye on the approaching maelstrom that is Hurricane Sandy. While we continue to hope for minimal impacts to life and property, it's overwhelmingly likely that millions of people will be facing days or weeks of power outages, constrained transportation and other serious challenges.

As we noted last year with the approach of Irene, there are several apps and simple tips that can help keep you safe and secure in emergent conditions. Of course, the most important advice is also pretty simple: follow the instructions of local authorities with regard to evacuations, road closures and travel restrictions.

On the app front, the big kahuna is Hurricane HD from Kitty Code, which provides up-to-the-minute storm tracking detail. It's a paid app that tracks all named storms in the Atlantic and Pacific; given that it's the tail end of the season, mostly what you'll get from it post-Sandy is historical info until next time around. True weather nerds may prefer to pick up Base Velocity's RadarScope, which delivers high-resolution radar data from around the US to your Mac or iPad. Also on your Mac, Zipline puts an RSS ticker of weather data on your desktop for immediate alerts. (Base Velocity's development partner WDT makes the handy iMap Weather Radio app, which delivers location-specific weather alerts for thunderstorms and other hazards.)

Our in-house weather maven Mel Martin recommends CaneCast as an alternative to Hurricane HD, with similar storm tracking and warning alert capabilities. Mel also likes Emergency Radio Free, which provides thousands of live feeds to NOAA weather reports and emergency/local first responder scanner broadcasts; and the Hurricane Safety Checklist Lite app.

Cnet points out ICE Lite, which allows you to quickly file all your "In Case of Emergency" info in one place for first responders or medical personnel. Don't put all your eggs in one app basket, though: you can use Evernote, Dropbox, iCloud notes or Google Drive to easily transfer some of your vital info to the cloud. Then, print out a copy and keep it in your wallet or glove compartment.

ABC's Joanna Stern notes that both the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the American Red Cross have helpful apps available for the iPhone. FEMA's app includes contact information for emergency services and recovery assistance; the Red Cross app gives instructions on preparing an "go bag" as well as the locations of support/evac centers. You can also use the Red Cross app to send an "I'm Safe" social media alert to Facebook and Twitter, although if your phone is working you can probably just post directly to those services yourself.

Before the storm hits, follow Scott Beale's advice: Always Be Charging everything with a battery in it. In the event of power outages, the vintage technologies may hold out better than modern digital versions: a battery-powered radio and landline phone may remain operable when TVs and cellphones don't. Keeping your iPhone charged, however, is a plus if it's feasible; it can provide emergency communication, navigation and a slew of other capabilities. As a bonus, a tethering plan may be able to provide bandwidth for your computer even if your home ISP connection goes down.

You can charge an iPhone or iPad from a laptop, or from an uninterruptible power supply; low-capacity models can be had for under $100, which will give you just enough time to gracefully shut down your computer, or happily provide juice for mobile gadgets for much longer. Best Buy actually has all the APC models on sale now, which means they'll likely go fast. Remember that you need to charge your UPS before the power goes out.

Kelly H. recommends turning off your UPS and unplugging all your drain-inducing gear as soon as the power cuts out, then turning it on only to charge the iPhone or iPad. If you're using a generator for backup power, Kelly strongly recommends not plugging your delicate electronics (MacBook Pro, etc.) directly into the generator output, unless you have a pure sine wave inverter providing clean AC power. Put a surge protector or UPS inline to keep that "dirty power" from frying your laptop.

Aside from minimizing your iPhone power drain by turning off unnecessary services and Wi-Fi (no point in searching for a network if the access point's offline), you can charge your phone from a backup battery or a hand-crank charger. Plenty of companies are offering AC-chargeable battery packs, including Zagg, PowerStick, Belkin and countless others. When you're looking for a power pack, keep in mind that an iPad needs a 2A USB port (twice the power of a normal USB port) for full-speed charging, although it will trickle-charge fine from a standard port.

Putting some elbow grease into the equation, we turn to the cranks. Eton's power products include chargers that can give you enough juice for a five-minute call after some vigorous cranking. Its line that's co-branded with the American Red Cross includes the Rover pocket-sized crank radio, which includes weather bands, USB charging and a LED flashlight for about $50; it's available at Radio Shack and other electronics retailers.

For your Mac, back it up -- and consider shutting down and unplugging ahead of power outages if you think they're likely. If you're using Time Machine and Mountain Lion, keep in mind that you can set up multiple, auto-rotated backup targets, so get a solid backup of all your machines on a drive or two and then tuck them away in the floodproof safe (or even better, on a shelf at a family member's house on high ground). If you've got a cloud backup via CrashPlan, Backblaze, Carbonite or Dolly Drive, make sure it's current.

In New York City, residents can register for SMS and voice alerts from the city's 311 information system by signing up for NotifyNYC. The NYC Office of Emergency Management's alerts can also be found on Twitter at @NotifyNYC. In other areas, check your local emergency management website to make sure it's accessible on your mobile devices. You can also track all the Sandy updates via our sister site Skye at

Wherever you are this weekend, stay safe! Please let us know how you're weathering the storm via our comments, Twitter or our Facebook page.

Image from NOAA-NASA GOES-13 satellite, Sandy at 5:55pm ET 10/28/2012

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