By Jennifer LeClaire / Top Tech News. Updated January 17, 2013.
In the midst of a disaster, people want help. Microsoft is aiming to offer some semblance of help with a free new app called HelpBridge.
Available in the U.S. for Windows Phone, Android and iOS, HelpBridge aims to make it easy to connect with friends and family during a large-scale disaster such as an earthquake or a hurricane. It also enables users to give time, money and resources to support relief and rebuilding efforts.
HelpBridge lets users build a list of friends and family they would want to contact in an emergency. Tony Suma, chief technology officer for Microsoft's Disaster Response team, said, "When disaster strikes, you don't want to be fumbling with your phone and trying to find your mom's number."
Coordinating Disaster Response
With a few swipes, users can let all those contacts know via SMS, e-mail or Facebook if they're OK or if they need help. The alert can also give a user's exact location via their phone's GPS capabilities.
HelpBridge offers three easy ways to support relief and recovery efforts in the wake of a disaster. People can use the app to donate funds quickly to a relief agencies including the American Red Cross, CARE and Global Giving.
People can also find out what goods and resources relief agencies on the ground need -- making sure they send items such as tents, gloves, and pet food to the right places. Finally, HelpBridge lists real-time volunteering opportunities posted by relief agencies, enabling users to directly or indirectly support relief efforts with their time.
Running App Drills
James Rooney, program manager for Microsoft Citizenship's Technology for Good program, hopes the app can help facilitate giving when disasters strikes. He pointed to the millions of people who have responded in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which will likely be the most expensive disaster in U.S. history. HelpBridge could have helped donors find new ways to give.
"People have been extremely generous donating their time and money after Sandy," he said. "HelpBridge could be a simple way to bump up donations or help people find new volunteer opportunities. If we can direct consumers to give easily, that's really what it's all about."
Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told us HelpBridge is a powerful solution with one problem.
"There is a great need for an application like this either for families trying to assure the safety of loved ones or employers to assure the safety of employees. The problem typically is that the priority to install and use the app is low before there is a disaster and when a disaster hits it may be too late," Enderle said.
"Using and running drills with a tool like this should be regular practice by parents and managers so that when a crisis hits, risks can be more quickly identified, or concerns eliminated, so that people we care about are safer. This app is incredibly important, but only if folks have it installed and know how to use it before they need to."