Last week, the Indonesian Red Cross released an Android app designed to help those affected by natural disasters. The app, called Mass Rapid Assessment, assists in sharing vital information during a natural disaster, whether that be practical tips or keeping in touch with loved ones during a crisis. Sumarsono, head of disaster relief, said that the app was aimed at boosting preparedness pre-disaster, and speeding up post disaster relief.
This isn’t the first app the Red Cross has put out in an effort to aid people in natural disasters. The American Red Cross has a whole raft of apps available on both Google Play and the Apple App Store, including apps for tornado, earthquake and flood disasters. They provide similar services, with additional social media alerts which the user can put out at the touch of a button to let friends and family know they’re safe.
The news of the Mass Rapid Assessment app comes at a time when most of the globe is gripped by fear of an impending Ebola crisis. Currently active in West Africa, thanks to modern travel habits it could spread frighteningly quickly. Could the use of mobile apps such as the Red Cross’ efforts help curb an outbreak?
Searching for ‘Ebola’ in the Google Play store throws up a large variety of options. Aside from a worrying array of Ebola themed mobile games (stay classy, guys), there are piles of apps offering help with the disease. Some, like Ebola Prevention App, offer maps that are updated with ‘affected area mapping’, that shows where outbreaks have occurred. Others, like Ebola News, promise to give the user up to date news on the crisis. Yet others, like the official Stop Ebola World Health Organisation app, promise to do both.
Given the sheer choice in the store, it seems that app developers have the situation wrapped up. However, how successful are these apps at stopping the spread of the disease? Apps such as About Ebola, created in Snapp, offer information in several different languages and are designed for use in affected areas. It’s been argued that these apps can help stop the spread of misinformation and panic, hopefully containing the disease. Since nearly all of the apps are free, they’re accessible by nearly everybody, too.
However, it seems that most of these apps don’t live up to the example the Red Cross apps have set. Reviews show that apps are sporadically updated, or in the case of Ebola News put out a deeply skewed version of the news. App stores can moderate the quality of the apps they provide, to a degree, but they can’t vouch for the accuracy and quality of the content they provide. When we’re dealing with such a serious illness, this has to be a worry. After all, most app developers are not medical experts.
Also, many of the apps are purely unnecessary. Where the app simply offers news or information on the illness, users may be better seeking out official sources of information online. Going to websites such as the Red Cross or WHO would offer much more precise, accurate info.
While the idea of mobile apps intended to help track and contain illnesses such as Ebola are a good idea, a lot more work and policing needs to go into their creation. While it’s normally great that nearly anyone can create an app and put it out to the public, perhaps in these circumstances we need to leave the apps to the experts.