A phone app helped save lives during Hurricane Harvey

Your phone can seem like a lifesaver at times. But this story from the Houston Chronicle shows how a miniature computer that can install and run apps literally saved lives. You need to read Holly Hartman's story to understand how anyone with a phone app, no matter where they are, can help when a dire situation happens. It's a powerful tale that just might bring you to tears: both at the dire situation of some of Harvey's victims and how one person was able to step up and make a difference.

Read: I downloaded an app. And suddenly, was part of the Cajun Navy.

It also shows how the things we use every day are now indispensable. The same phone you use to play a game or watch YouTube videos with is also a tool that an amazing group of regular people used to save lives. Let that sink in for a moment: people didn't die because of a smartphone app.

The app in question is Zello PTT Walkie Talkie. It's well done but not anything particularly special. What matters is that the right people all installed it and did everything they could to let folks in the Houston area know that they could install it and be able to call for help. In the hours before Harvey made landfall, Twitter and Facebook posts telling everyone to install Zello were abundant. We're seeing the same thing today with Hurricane Irma ready to wreck SouthWest Florida, and hopefully, it can make the same difference.

Hurricanes don't discriminate: everyone left behind is at risk.

If you've never been through a major hurricane it's hard to understand what conditions are like. You're essentially isolated and on your own until the storm lets up enough for emergency responders to do their jobs. And there will always be people who stayed back and didn't evacuate. Some because they can't and others who just don't want to. I was in the latter group when Hurricane Andrew happened and spent a few hours trapped in a Circle K (a small convenience store) with four others, hoping the water wouldn't get high enough to drown us all. Even when the water finally stopped rising, we all were stuck until we were able to flag down a rescue boat.

This was before the smartphone age.We had no way of letting anyone know where we were or our situation. Calling 911 during a hurricane is futile because there will never be enough operators and dispatchers to take the calls coming in, and your call for help will likely be unanswered. If you are unfortunate enough, or as in my case, stubborn enough, to not leave when advised you're on your own. It's wonderful that we now have the tools to be less isolated and can hear a friendly voice just when we need one.

If you're in the path of Irma and didn't evacuate to a safe shelter, make sure you have Zello installed. If you're able and willing to help, either in the field or to take calls, please do the same. There are lives on the line.

Download: Zello PTT Walkie Talkie (free) from Google Play

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.