Friday, 9 May 2014

FEMA Smart phone App review Part I

FEMA Android Smartphone App Version 2.4.0 (May 5, 2014)
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has created a smartphone application for public use. The goal is to educate, notify and distribute and collect information to citizens across all U.S. States and territories. It is a powerful use of smartphone technology. It has its advantages and drawbacks (name a device or piece of software that doesn't...), but overall, it is a wise and worth investment made by the agency. FEMA has also begun a journey into the world of open source coding (see article in our DDRS magazine - From Coding to Tangible Results: FEMA’s First Open Data Town Hall), learning how to integrate Open Data into useful information mentioned above.

I have used every previous FEMA Android version since the first release. It has come a long way in a very short time span. This application will see continuous improvements as smartphones become even more powerful then they are today. I tested this version on a Samsung S4 Galaxy 1.9 GHz Quad Processor, installed with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal memory. I also have a 16 GB of external card installed. The application in this particular case is loaded into the phones internal memory card. This S4 has built-in WiFi, 4G LTE, HSPA / UMTS / GPRS / EDGE using the most common bands used around the world from 700 to 2600 MHz.


As shown in the screen shot above, FEMA has created different sections inside the app to serve different purposes and functions. The user has at its fingertips, access to a portal of valuable information. The user should be aware, that not all the information is directly stored in the application itself (the app itself only consumes 1.68 Mb of space), but retrieve and send data, to and from FEMA's servers as required. The good news is that all the education sections in the Prepare tab are preloaded. There is a wealth of information here. Citizens would do well to read through each type of crisis and disaster they are most at risk and exposure to.

User clicks on a tab and learns how to prepare before, during and after each type of event.
Navigation throughout this section is simple, concise and laid out in a clean and easy to use format.

Disaster Resources

This section has four primary sections, How to apply for Assistance (contains contact information), Shelters, Disaster Recovery Centers and Recovery Tips.  This is where it begins to rely on connectivity. For example, when a user clicks on Shelters, it shows current active FEMA monitored shelter facilities as shown below. You can click on each one and get address and contact information. If you want to show where it is on a map, the user must have internet connectivity or it will not be displayed.

Active Shelters after severe flooding occurred in the Southeast.

This should not be considered a drawback to the usefulness of the application. If FEMA decided to load a map of the entire U.S. it would consume approximately 2.5 - 3 Gb (Gigabits) of data and very likely, overload the smart phone processor, despite its quad processing power, because its RAM would also be full. It should also be noted, FEMA updates current disaster information on a regular basis such as updated shelter information as it becomes available,  requiring data connectivity.

Overall, in each of these sections, FEMA has published a very good smart phone application. Its approach to the basic requirements users need is excellent. It has not burdened the user with information overload or difficult to understand or find. It's use of mapping and interactive user options is well executed. Today's smart phones are indeed becoming a very powerful tool to use by citizens to help themselves during an unfolding crisis.

Part II focuses on an interesting feature of the App, the Disaster Reporter. FEMA may discover it has created a future internal crisis that could be difficult to manage.

Users can send FEMA images of a disaster.

Stay tuned. Tell us your experience using the FEMA smart phone app by leaving a comment below. You can also participate in our FEMA App poll in the right hand column.


  1. What a waste. Why can't they have emergency notification?

  2. For several reasons - which I note in Part III published today. Over time, I think this policy through Congressional amendments will allow change.