FEMA sparks up a new mobile lifeline

Tuesday - 5/4/2010, 10:53am EDT

Brent Colburn, Director of External Affairs, FEMA

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

Tornado, hurricane, winter storm, flooding, earthquake and even tsumani: yup, there's an app for that.

Especially now that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has joined the world of mobile Web sites.

FEMA's Director of External Affairs, Brent Colburn, told Federal News Radio, it's never too soon to click on m.fema.gov

"Hurricane season officially starts June 1st, but as our boss Craig Fugate likes to say it's a lot like football season: it doesn't really heat up until September."

So there's time, now, to download information about preparing for a disaster and to have the site bookmarked and ready to go, just in case.

During a disaster, people aren't going to have access to their desktop computers or, in many cases, even to their laptop computers and in today's digital world, they're going to be using their mobile device to get the information they need right away.

This was one of the lessons learned recently, said Colburn.

In many ways smartphones have really started to close what people saw as the digital divide and sometimes it actually is poorer communities where people have more access through these devices because they've kind of leapt forward. That's one of the things we saw in our support for US AID's response in Haiti was one of the first pieces of technology that was back up and (being used) was the mobile phone network.

So, Colburn said FEMA looked at all of the features on their regular website and tried to boil that down to a mobile application that would address the questions someone might need when they were preparing for a disaster or in the immediate aftermath.

Now, if you go to the site, "the first thing it gives you is a direct link which allows you to direct dial to one of our customer service centers where you can sign up for benefits and you can find out if you're eligible after a disaster.

In June we'll be rolling out the second generation of the mobile platform and on that you actually will be able to go in and register for assistance and change that registration status from your mobile device. So this will cut down on disaster survivors having to go directly to one of our centers or spend time on the phone doing it when they have so many other things to worry about in the aftermath of a disaster.

A FEMA press release notes that eventually you'll also be able to "check on the status of an application and update an existing application."

You don't even need an iPhone or BlackBerry. "Anything that has a web browser on it" will work, said Colburn.