South Carolina Emergency Management Division spokesperson Derrec Becker said his phone blew up Thursday night after Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Bettes said live on the air that the SCEMD smartphone emergency manager app was one of the best he has seen.
“Next thing I know I’m getting a bunch of text messages and lots of phone vibrations on all the devices we were around,” Becker told South Carolina Radio Network. “And I just happened to look and it said, ‘Weather Channel just gave you a great shoutout’ or ‘The Weather Channel’s talking about your app, they’re really spending a long time in your app,’ and it took me about a day to see a clip of what they actually did,” he said.
Bettes did a demonstration of how the app worked while reporting live from Myrtle Beach during coverage of Hurricane Florence. The meteorologist said he liked the “whistle” feature.
SCEMD unveiled the new app in May, along with a redesign of its agency’s web page. Becker said they spent four years developing the app.
“We were very specific in what we wanted in a mobile application. It was going to be something for the user,” he said. “This was not going to be something to just receive information. There are news apps out there. This is meant to be complimentary of those information sources so we wanted anybody who downloaded the app to go on that mental journey to be personally prepared.”
Becker said the design is inspired by similar apps created by counterparts in North Carolina and Georgia.
“My hope is that people or state emergency management agencies will see that it’s not just about delivering information to folks. It’s about giving folks the venue to create their own information,” Becker said. “This is all about you and your information and how you may have all of the data that’s in the app in other places but in a crisis, you’re frazzled, you’re stressed, you might even be scared. It’s having all that information in one place. Plus, you can use all the interactive maps and that sort of thing as quick reference tools.”
Florence was the first disaster since the new app rolled out. Becker said emergency officials are using feedback to make some small changes for the next need.
“We think it’s gone well,” Becker said. “A few people have reached out and said, ‘Hey, this was really great, I was able to know my zone instantly and I was able to evacuate.’ And I think we might do a few tweaks on the damage assessment tool that we just launched a few weeks ago.”
About 20,000 users had downloaded the app prior to Florence’s approach. Becker said the app has now been downloaded 111,000 times.
“It’s a great tool but we would like many, many more smartphone users to download it,” he said. “Because we did it for them just to be able to have that preparedness tool and all those safety resources.”
Becker said SCEMD’s greatest challenge is to reach all South Carolina citizens with the information to help keep them safe. To do that, the SCEMD needs a variety of information platforms.
“We do that in multiple formats because how you get news, how I get news, could be very different, and so we try to use all the different means at our disposal,” he said.
To download the free SCEMD app, go to your phone’s app store. Click here for a link to the latest information from the SCEMD website, which is constantly being updated as the disaster progresses.