An app developed by the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension Service allows drivers stranded during winter storms to notify authorities and emergency contacts, and provides other features to keep drivers safe while stranded in a vehicle.

The Extension Service, through the university located in Fargo, launched the Winter Survival Kit app in November. The app is equipped with features to help drivers who are stranded in harsh weather conditions, said Bob Bertsch, an NDSU agricultural communication Web technology specialist who’s involved with the app’s development.

“We had more than a few situations last year here in North Dakota and in South Dakota where whiteout conditions on interstates, or just people who are going off the road and being stuck in a ditch in a rural area, can often mean waiting some time for someone to come by and provide assistance,” Bertsch said.

The free app can be downloaded for Android-based phones and iPhones, and since its launch, more than 2,400 users have downloaded the Winter Survival Kit app. The features include but are not limited to the following:

Gas Calculator

Many drivers fear that they will run out of gas after their vehicle becomes stranded during a snowstorm. With the app’s gas calculator, the driver can input how many gallons of gas are in the vehicle and the app estimates how long the vehicle’s engine can continue running so that drivers can keep the vehicle on and stay warm.

Bertsch said drivers can input how big their gas tank is and a slide bar lets them estimate how much gas they have left. “It can be a point of concern or possible panic for people if they have a low level of gas in their tank and are thinking, ‘Well, I can’t run the car to stay warm because I’m going to run out of gas,’” he said. “So that gas calculator helps you estimate how long your car will idle on your remaining gas.”

Call 911

When drivers become stranded, they can pull up the app on a smartphone and by pressing the alert button, 911 is called. The app will also show the driver the vehicle’s location.

Alarm

Running the vehicle after becoming stranded does keep drivers safer, however, running the engine also creates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. With the app’s alarm system, drivers are alerted about what to do. The alert asks the driver how long the engine has been running within the last half hour and depending on the driver’s answer, the app will recommend either shutting off the engine or making sure that the tailpipe isn’t clogged with snow.

Emergency Contact Storage

Upon downloading the Winter Survival Kit, drivers are asked to set up the app by including emergency phone numbers and information such as a roadside assistance contact phone number. Insurance policy numbers can be added as well to prevent the driver from spending unnecessary time searching for crucial information.

To alert the emergency contacts, Bertsch said drivers can send an automated text message that says, “Help. I’m stranded.” The text message also can be edited before it’s sent.

North Dakota commonly experiences severe storms during the winter, but the state also endures harsh weather conditions year-round. Bertsch said the NDSU Extension Service built a disaster recovery app and released it earlier this year to help people record property losses from the massive flooding that took place last spring.

“Unfortunately — geographically in North Dakota — we’ve had our challenges. This spring and summer we had severe flooding in various parts of the state and 4,000 people were displaced,” Bertsch said. “That’s given the Extension Service the opportunity and responsibility to provide whatever information and help we can to people in North Dakota dealing with those things.”

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.