updated 02:00 am EST, Thu January 17, 2013
App aids in disasters, notifies contacts, facilitates giving
Microsoft has launched a new app for iOS, Android and Windows Phone called HelpBridge (free) that is meant to be used to communicate, acquire aid or donate to help others in case of disaster. The program uses a "I need help" or "I'm okay" button for disaster victims to use, or lets users connect to relief organizations when they want to help others affected by a disaster. Users can quickly contact pre-selected family and friends or contact emergency services.
In addition, the app can include GPS information and other info to reassure loved ones or to assist rescuers in locating the user. For those not directly affected, the app can act as a donation clearing house, handling text-to-give type small donations, using Paypal for larger cash donations and connecting users to other relief organizations for goods and services donations. The app works with the Mobile Giving Foundation, Network for Good and VolunteerMatch for bringing donors and the appropriate groups together.
Users can use the app to build a list of contacts they would want to notify in an emergency, and can alert them to your status via SMS, email or Facebook. Donations can be made to a number of organizations, including the American Red Cross, CARE, and Global Giving among others. The app only works in the United States at present, and thus is not available to non-US app stores.
Having HelpBridge and using it may also encourage users to develop an overall disaster-preparedness plan beyond what the app itself can do -- such as creating a strategy for offsite or cloud document backups, dealing with pets in emergency situations or other issues that will help prepare for unexpected events. Microsoft had previously offered a vine.net emergency network system, but the new app appears to replace it with a more comprehensive approach that marries emergency response with coordinated action that users can take at any time, making the app useful beyond simply during emergencies.