Is Your Social Network Ready for a Disaster?

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)  recently sponsored a Facebook app contest with the goal of  getting people to designate friends or family to be their lifeline after a disaster.  The concept was born out the notion that people already turn to their social networks in a crisis for support,  so why not create a way for folks to think about this before an event. The winning application is called bReddi and it is quite innovative: the developers not only integrate the concept of lifelines into the product, but they also promote personal preparedness activities, coupled with information about specific geographic risks and hazards.

There are 3 things I think they executed really well.

1. Buttons and Badges

Most government emergency management  websites contain information about how to prepare for a disaster presented as a list of items the citizen should accomplish. These lists are often static without anyway for the person to either track their progress, enter the information, or be rewarded once completed. This app, however, not only provides the all-important to-do list, but allows the user to type their content directly into the app and see their progress via a status bar of percent complete. For anyone who attended grade school, seeing a 0% on what looks like a report card strikes up not only a little fear, but a desire to make it go away. Once completed, users are rewarded with a badge to be proudly displayed on their Facebook page. The badge serves two  purposes, it alerts the user’s Facebook friends to the app and provides another incentive to finish.

2. Risk and hazard information is prominently featured.

Often, information about hazards is  divorced from information  about preparedness.  The bReddi app, however, connects the user to the hazards they could experience based on their  location–which is obtained from the Facebook profile. The home “dashboard” not only lists these potential hazards, but the content is linked to a live FEMA newsfeed. (This is actually a little bit of a criticism for me–I think it would be a bit better if the content came from more local sources, however, I understand that there were probably development constraints. Maybe V2 will provide this feature.) The “history” tab also provides a visualization of regional historical-disaster data for 8 different hazards: flood, tornado, fire, earthquake, hurricane, pandemic, terrorism, and volcanoes.

Historical and real-time disaster data is displayed on the home tab as well, which not only gives the user a personal “threat summary” but also illustrates the threat summary for favorite friends and the national average. Seeing a national average is not necessarily useful information, since a threat of fire in California does not threaten me here in Maryland, however, seeing the threat scale for  friends might provoke me to invite others to the app. For example, Bill Boyd, a fellow blogger, has a bit of yellow on his scale where mine was all green, prompting me to want to encourage him to prepare. (As a side note, Bill is a firefighter and already well prepared, I’m sure!) This illustrates how the developers considered the concept of shared responsibility: I see my friends are in danger, I can help them prepare by sharing this app…brilliant.

3.  Design

The entire app has a pleasing user interface, easy to understand graphics, and easily executable tasks. The content can also be taken offline by printing out a wallet-sized emergency info card.

One tiny criticism, I do wish they would explain to the user what is involved in being someone’s “lifeline.” What does that mean for the designee? What responsibilities does that entail? Although I think this information is explained on the companies’ website, it should be spelled out in the app itself more prominently.

I am now curious how local governments might take advantage of this app. Will you direct your citizens to it? Let me know.

10 responses to “Is Your Social Network Ready for a Disaster?

  1. Danielle Young

    bReddi is a great app! I have tried several different disaster preparedness apps and this one tops them all. You can even use it outside of Facebook at If you hit that URL on your phone they have a mobile experience too.

  2. Thank you for the indepth review of the bReddi app. I am one of the developers that worked on the app and I value your praise and criticism. We are currently evaluating future additions to the app and will hopefully be able to implement some of your suggestions. Thanks again!

  3. Danielle–thanks for your comment. I will look into the mobile app.

  4. Ado, thanks chiming in. Version 1 is never perfect, nor is it expected to be, but you all really did knock it out the park with all of the great features. It is obvious that the people involved did their homework regarding risk communication. Thanks for sharing!

  5. kim26stephens

    See this post:
    Adam Crowe stated: What intrigued me the most was her final question: “I am now curious how local governments might take advantage of this app…will you direct your citizens to it?”.
    I was immediately perplexed by whether a good emergency preparedness app (whether for Facebook or other mobile platforms) was best when created new with various ‘bells and whistles’ (but no community) or whether it should be adapted from other networks that have community, but no inherent emergency preparedness functionality. For example, several years ago I heard a local first responder tell me that his community utilized Nixle because it was free and provided significant functionality. Unfortunately, when asked about the number of users if Nixle within their community it was very small. Moreover, Nixle does not release their user count across their platform. On the other hand, Twitter provided nothing but a status box, but literally had millions of people many of whom already talk about disasters (especially when they are occuring).
    Or put another way — as emergency managers do we go to where our community is or allow them to come to us? Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of our industry is much more comfortable with the latter. We don’t often have a clear picture of how to engage where our citizens and constituents are. This is the crux of the challenge and is not easily overcome until we adopt overarching strategies and become more integrated into where our communities exist.

  6. I can see this application serving corporate emergency preparedness as well… I work for a 5500 employee firm that spans many states. Our system of floor wardens and such is OK, but that only works when employees are on-site. As more employers, including mine, adopt mobile and remote workforce models something like this would be fantastic.

  7. Pingback: Is Your Social Network Ready for a Disaster? | #UASI

  8. Pingback: What is the Right Model for Mobile Engagement? | #UASI

  9. At first glance it has good fundamentals:

    1. It is based on a free social network app;
    2. Responsibility is centered on the individual;
    3. The app integrates gamifcation; and
    4. Preparedness measures are practical and context-specific.

  10. Reblogged this on buridansblog and commented:
    At first glance it has good fundamentals:
    1. It is based on a free social network app;
    2. Responsibility is centered on the individual;
    3. The app integrates gamifcation; and
    4. Preparedness measures are practical and context-specific.
    I am going to try it out. More comments to follow.

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