Natural disasters can be hard to predict and devastating to the affected.

That’s why the Mississippi Department of Health is looking to gain a potentially life-saving edge using technology. On Oct. 4, the department, in partnership with its e-government partner Mississippi Interactive, a division of NIC, launched MS Ready. The emergency preparedness mobile app offers Mississippi residents alerts and a game plan for natural disasters and man-made threats.

Among the app’s list of notable features are push notifications of real-time emergency alerts, emergency checklists and connections to the department’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages. Liz Sharlot, the department’s communications director, said the app — which cost about $10,000 to create — adds one more tool to help residents and represents a proactive approach to state emergencies.

“Why not focus on an emergency preparedness app that really is just focused on emergencies so that when an emergency happens it’s just another way to reach people?” Sharlot asked in an interview with Government Technology.

She noted that while all information on the app can be found on state websites, the app provides another, more direct route for citizens. As of November, the department has logged more than 500 downloads across iPhone and Android devices.

Drew Levanway, project manager of Mississippi Interactive, said one of the unique things about the app is that it has emergency checklists, advice and other readiness information hard-coded into it, so users affected by emergencies can access the app's resource pages without an Internet connection. Contact information for all relevant emergency departments and first responders is also available to app users who are offline.

As each state has unique safety needs, the app's emergency information has been tailored to Mississippi, known for flooding and hurricanes, like Hurricane Isaac in 2012 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“We changed ours to be more adaptable for what we have experienced here in Mississippi or that we need to be prepared to experience,” Sharlot said.

Yet, while the app is responsive to historical needs, it’s also versatile enough to anticipate other possible — though unlikely — disasters, such as a nuclear incident. Other helpful features include tabs that describe how residents can take advantage of specialized emergency services such as medical special needs shelters and point of dispensing units that carry medical supplies.

Government Technology Staff Writer Jason Shueh Jason Shueh  |  Staff Writer

Jason Shueh is a staff writer for Government Technology magazine. His articles and writing have covered numerous subjects, from minute happenings to massive trends. A San Francisco Bay Area native, Shueh grew up in the east bay and Napa Valley, where his family is based. His writing has been published previously in the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Amazon Publishing, Bike Magazine, Diablo Magazine, The Sierra Sun, Nevada Appeal, The Union and the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza.