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Red Cross earthquake app helps before, during and after disaster

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PHOENIX – A 2010 earthquake in Mexico that left more than 3,000 Yuma County households without electricity was a powerful reminder that people need to be ready for disaster, the county’s emergency director says.

“We are overdue for a big earthquake, and I imagine that we will have a serious earthquake,” Gretchen Robinson said.

A new smartphone app from the American Red Cross is designed to help people know what to do before, during and after earthquakes, and Robinson said she’s glad it’s available.

“It is going to occur again, but I think it will give the people of Yuma at least a starting point, a checklist of things that they can and can’t do,” she said.

While earthquakes are rare in other parts of Arizona, they do occur along approximately 100 faults identified in the state, particularly in the northern reaches of Coconino County.

Brian Gomez, communications specialist at the American Red Cross Grand Canyon Chapter, called the free app another way to prepare and avoid being caught off guard.

“One of our main pillars is preparedness and making sure people are prepared for disasters instead of waiting for a disaster and trying to figure out what to do,” Gomez said.

In addition to information on preparedness, the app, available for iPhone and Android devices, provides real-time earthquake data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The app will alert users when an earthquake occurs, even one too minor to be felt.

Users can hit an “I’m Safe” button, enabling them to contact friends and family through text message, email, Twitter and Facebook.

Robert Rowley, emergency manager of Coconino County, said that feature would make it easier for people to communicate during an earthquake, especially when telephones and television might not work. For example, he said, people around the state and country would want to know that loved ones at Northern Arizona University are OK.

“That could take a great deal of pressure off the telephone infrastructure and maybe help with keeping it from getting jammed up,” Rowley said.

He also likes that the app includes maps and directions to American Red Cross shelters.

“As the Red Cross is a partner of ours, they will have that kind of information,” Rowley said.

Ramon Arrowsmith, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said that the interactive nature of the app will increase awareness among Arizona residents of even the smallest of earthquakes.

“I think that this kind of technology is becoming ubiquitous, so we might as well start to do things that can teach us more about our environment and let us interact with our friends on topics like earthquakes,” Arrowsmith said.