Reaching Out to Friends and Family

First prize and $10,000 went to developers of an app named Lifeline that will be launched before this year's hurricane season.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response recently chose three winners of its challenge to develop Facebook apps that help users prepare for emergencies and get support from their friends and family during an emergency. The ASPR Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge invited software application developers to design new app to establish social connections prior to an emergency.

First prize went to two Brown University graduates, Evan Donahue and Erik Stayton, with their Lifeline app. Coming in second was a Las Vegas team (David Vinson, Erick Rodriguez, Gregg Orr, and Garth Winckler) with an app named JAMAJIC 360. Third went to AreYouOk? developed by TrueTeamEffort, a team of University of Illinois students headed by Alex Kirlik.

All three allow a user to designate Facebook friends who agree to check on the user in an emergency; supply him or her with shelter, food, and other necessities; and provide that person's social network with an update about his or her well-being. The Lifeline app can create disaster readiness plans, share them with emergency contacts, and provide users with news. It also allows Facebook friends to collaborate on tracking the user's status in a disaster-affected area "so these friends can easily find the user's lifelines and contact them to report that the user is safe or if the user appears to be missing. This networked approach," according to ASPR, "increases the efficiency of finding missing users. The app allows users to print cards with a snapshot of their preparedness plan to carry in their wallets."

Its announcement said the Lifeline app is anticipated to be launched within a few months -- before the start of this year's hurricane season. Donahue and Stayton received $10,000 and complimentary passes to the Health 2.0 conference in Boston this month. The JAMAJIC 360 team received $5,000, and TrueTeamEffort received $1,000.

"Having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster, so we want to encourage everyone to identify those people in advance. Since so many people use Facebook to connect with one another, it seemed like a natural way to help people to identify their lifelines,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response. "People who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don't, which means establishing these social connections can enhance individual and community resilience."

For more information about application challenges sponsored by federal agencies, visit www.challenge.gov. To learn more about ASPR and preparedness, response, and recovery from the health impacts of disasters, visit www.phe.gov.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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