In an emergency you’ll need to provide and receive help, and after it’s over, you’ll have to return, repair, and rebuild. Central to this is communication and documentation. Our society loves red tape, especially after disasters. Below are 50 ways the camera phone can be used in an emergency to document, record, and relay important information.
Any camera could be used for some of these things, but the phonecam carries a distinct advantage. It can immediately transmit your pictures. If you don’t have a phonecam, go with what you have, or what you can afford. Disposable cameras and digital cameras are acceptable. However, the phonecam rules, so let’s look at ways yours can be used in an emergency. These are excerpts from “Disaster Prep 101” at http://www.disasterprep101.com.
1. Last minute child ID. Whenever the family might be separated, take last-minute pictures of all family members, especially the kids, and pets.
2. Send a map. To send or receive directions to or from a location when voice directions aren’t working, draw a map on paper, take a picture, and send.
3. Injury photos to the doctor. Suppose help isn’t available, and someone’s sick or injured. If there are visible signs or symptoms, relay pictures to medical personnel who can walk you through whatever treatment is possible where you are.
4. Damage documentation. In catastrophes, it’ll be days before insurance adjusters get there to file claims. Photo all damage in case some of it gets repaired or cleaned up before agents arrive.
5. Report suspicious activity. If you see suspicious activity in your neighborhood, upload pictures of suspects and the situation to the Police immediately.
6. “Here’s the landmark.” Gathering the family is critical. If you don’t have a fixed meeting place, send pictures of where and what you’re near so others can find you. This also works well if you’re lost in the wilderness and need to relay pictures of landmarks.
7. “Meet us here.” If you have a fixed rendezvous point, send a pic you already have on file, so others will know where to meet. Take these photos while compiling your family emergency plan.
8. Photo shopping list. When stocking up in anticipation of an emergency, take a picture of your pantry as a quick shopping list.
9. Driving directions. If you’re trying to tell others where a certain location is, send a picture by picture set of directions. Create this file while assembling your family reaction plan.
10. “Meet this person.” If your family evacuates, and they know where to go, but haven’t met the family contact person, send them a picture of the person they’re to meet, or send that person pictures of the people heading their way.
11. Last minute property inventory. If you’re evacuating, snap quick shots of your property to include purchases not on your last home inventory, and the current condition of your property.
12. “Adventure” journal. Take pictures to record what you do, where you go, and people you meet during an evacuation, etc.
13. Situational severity. In a large-scale emergency, first responders will be overworked. They might not be available for a “minor situation.” However, the situation might be worse than they understand, and you might need serious help. Send a picture of how bad things are.
14. Quick text messaging. You might not have time to type a message, and the lines might not be open long enough for a conversation. Write a note on paper, take a picture, and send that.
15. Minor traffic mishap. In a minor fender-bender, with no injuries or disabled vehicles, most jurisdictions will tell you to “swap info and move along.” If that’s the case (always call 911 to make sure), photo the vehicular damage, people involved, witnesses at the scene (and their car tag numbers), and of others involved in the accident to show their injuries (or lack thereof).
16. Wallet backup. Take pictures of your wallet’s contents (or important documents) to record numbers, and show that cards are or were in your possession. Be careful with this info as it’s very sensitive and can be used for identity theft!
17. Inclement weather reporting. If you’re the first to see the funnel cloud, hail, or a river overflowing, send a picture to the weather service or authorities as rapid proof an emergency is developing.
18. First Responder intel. The more first responders know about a collapsed house, an auto accident, a fire in progress, or any other emergency, the more rapid and appropriate a reaction they can make.
19. Missing persons. Send picture of picture. In addition to last minute family photos, send a picture of a photograph in your purse or wallet of a missing family member.
20. Relay property damage to or from neighbors. After a disaster, whoever goes home first, either you or your neighbors, could photograph area damage and relay info to the other.
21. Help insurance adjusters find your property. After a devastating incident, street signs will be gone, house numbers won’t be visible, etc. Take current pictures of landmarks or unique damage near or at your property to make it easier to find you.
22. Copy bulletin boards. If you’re in an emergency shelter, and there’s an info bulletin board, you’ll need the info but might not be able to write it down. Take a picture!
23. Bus, subway, or city map. If you’re anywhere you’re not familiar with and there’s a posted map, take a picture of it for later reference if you get lost.
24. Document your route. When traveling to a new area, and you want to find your way back, take pictures along the way of landmarks at turns you make, forks in the road, etc.
25. Record medicines or food brands. To relay information about medications, or if you have special dietary needs and are sending information regarding certain brands to someone, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
26. Parking spot locations. Don’t trust your memory, trust a picture. Take a pic of where you left your vehicle either in a lot or in a parking deck.
27. Engine repairs. Should you break down and your vehicle shows outward signs of problems such as steam shooting from a hose, or liquids dripping from the engine, send a pic to a mechanic who may talk you through a quick fix.
28. Business or service function and hours. Copy posted business hours or listed service functions (and pricing) for later review and recall. This is also a good way to report price gouging.
29. Child custodian. If you can’t get to your kids at school or other function, relay a picture of the person who is coming to pick them up. Send this picture to the school or function, and to your child (if they have a phonecam).
30. Info on injured or hospitalized people. You might be in a position to send pictures to people looking for loved ones or vice-versa.
31. Hotel room number. Whenever you get a hotel room, take a picture to find your way back. Photo the room number on the door, and the name of the motel and adjacent buildings.
32. ID your evac gear. As with all belongings, take a picture to prove ownership. This might come in handy with theft in emergency shelters. It’s a rare occurrence, but be ready to prove things are yours.
33. Photo scavenger hunt. You’ll need something to entertain the kids. Give them a short list of things they should take a picture of. First one to take all the pictures wins!
34. Identify the close-up. Another idea is to take a really close up picture of something while the kids aren’t looking, and have them figure out what it is.
35. Document your whereabouts. Let’s say looting or rioting is occurring. You can help Police by secretively taking pictures of the perpetrators (not really recommended for safety reasons), or take pictures as you’re leaving to document the fact you weren’t involved.
36. ID the rescuer. If a rescuer is picking up your child or pet, photo the rescuer (and the child or pet) and the vehicle they used. Photograph their name tag as well as registration numbers on helicopters, vehicle tag numbers, or names of boats.
37. Document your cleanup. It may be a while before your insurance adjuster can arrive. Take pictures of the damage as you found it, and steps you took during cleanup. Regarding insurance, NOTHING beats documentation!
38. Document expenditures. If you buy goods or supplies, rent equipment, or hire a service, in addition to receipts, photograph the goods acquired, equipment being used, services being performed, and the people involved.
39. Property pics for retrieval companies. Some scenarios will see you unable to return home. Some companies are trained and equipped to go into these areas to gather people’s belongings. Property photos will allow you to identify specific items you’d like retrieved.
40. Evacuee status. Authorities will want to know who is injured, dead, or missing, and who is okay and where they are. Taking pictures of those you meet along with way, or at your emergency shelter, will help ID the living and well.
41. Language barriers. Ever try to find the restroom in a foreign country and you didn’t know the phrase? Imagine how guests in our country feel in emergency situations. Pictures make communication easier, whether you’re trying to understand their needs, or relay yours.
42. Transmit road conditions. Let’s say after a hurricane, you’re one of the first families returning home, and you’re taking back roads. Authorities (or others following) might not have checked every avenue of return. If damage needs to be reported, or there’s no damage (report that too), sending a picture can relay tons of information.
43. Relay traffic conditions. If family members are separated, or heading different directions, pass along traffic conditions or info from traffic warning signs.
44. Crime scene evidence. People have returned to a home undamaged by a disaster, but later looted. Since Police might not be able to show up right away, take “crime scene” photos (for both Police and insurance).
45. Too much on the screen? Should the TV flash pertinent information and you don’t have time to write, or there’s a lot of text on a computer and you can’t print it, take a picture of the screen for later review.
46. ID for doctors or pharmacies. Medical needs are a real probability during an emergency. Since you can’t get to your doctor, and they might phone in a prescription to a pharmacy that doesn’t know either of you, use your phone to verify your identity to your doctor, and your doctor can relay the picture to the pharmacy.
47. Emergency supply information. Suppose a developing emergency finds you low on goods and you send different people to different supply locations. If supplies are low, these folks can send a picture of the types or brands of items available so you can make educated purchase decisions.
48. “Last Minute List” items and shutdown. Though everyone should keep a “bugout kit” packed and ready, there will be items which cannot be packed in advance. In addition to a written list, create a photo file showing items you need to take (and their location) and steps to secure the house before leaving.
49. Evac atlas. Create a “travel atlas” of emergency assets available along evacuation routes. Include lodging, ATM locations, emergency rooms, etc. Travel the routes and take photos, or draw maps and shoot those.
50. Reaction plan for the reading disabled. If a family member suffers from any reading disability, using photos is a must. Create a photo file that will relay your entire emergency plan without using text.
51. As a bonus tip, we’d like to remind you that any modern communication device whether a cell phone, PDA, etc usually emits enough light from its display panel to act as a small flashlight in situations of total darkness.
About the author: Paul Purcell is a security analyst and preparedness consultant with over twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He’s also the author of “Disaster Prep 101.” More information can be found at http://www.disasterprep101.com.