Who Can You Count On in an Emergency? Who Can Count on You?

Can you count on your Facebook friends in an emergency? Perhaps so, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in announcing the winners of their Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge last spring. Recognizing that a tremendous number of people use Facebook to post and share information, last year HHS challenged software designers and others to develop Facebook applications ("apps") to support individual preparedness and community resilience in disasters and other emergencies.

In May, HHS unveiled two Challenge winners:  bReddi and Project: Lifeline. These free apps help people develop a personal preparedness plan and identify friends who can check on them in an emergency, supply them with shelter, food, or other necessities and/or provide the user's family and social network with updates.

"The question is, who can you count on in an emergency and who can count on you?" said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. "We know that people who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don't, and that every disaster has the potential to impact health, so having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster. That's why we are encouraging everyone to identify their lifelines in advance."

bReddi allows you to set meeting places and roles so that everyone knows what to do, where to go, and who to contact. The app can also alert you—via text message, Facebook, or Twitter—when the threat of disaster increases.

Project: Lifeline allows you to update your status in an emergency status list and helps you find resources that will teach you about disaster risks and how to keep yourself safe.

In addition to online connections, the apps allow users to print their preparedness plans as wallet cards, for quick reference about what to do when a disaster strikes—very handy if electricity and battery power run out.

Both apps can be accessed through the HHS Public Health Emergency website or directly through Facebook.

 

Whether it's hurricane season in the Midwest, a tsunami overseas, or an earthquake in the Puget Sound region, people get "stressed out" when disasters occur—especially if family, friends, or large numbers of people are or could be hurt.

The Disaster Distress Helpline is the first national hotline dedicated to providing disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 year-round via telephone and text message to U.S. residents who experience emotional distress related to natural or man-made disasters.

Callers and texters connect to trained and caring professionals from the closest crisis counseling center in the network. Helpline staff provides counseling and support, including information on common stress reactions and healthy coping, as well as referrals to local disaster-related resources for follow-up care and support.

For more information and resources related to disaster behavioral health, call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 (TTY 1-800-846-8517), text "TalkWithUs" to 66746, follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, or visit their website.

 

—Irene Stewart, Aging and Disability Services