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Safety first: warning apps for your smartphone

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What is the fastest and most efficient way these days to get an emergency or danger warning to people? A burst dam, a major fire that is expanding, an approaching storm or toxic emissions leaking from a chemical works: these are all scenarios were prompt information can protect people's health or even save lives. There are now two apps providing vital and previously missing crisis information in such circumstances.

Nationwide siren alarms are a thing of the past in Germany and, in the digital age, reports of disasters are significantly slower to reach people by TV and radio than via the omnipresent smartphone.

NINA, short of "Notfall- und Nachrichten Informationssystem" (Emergency and Notification Information System in English) is an app developed by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance that sends a warning to your smartphone in the event of major threats. NINA collects official warning notifications from the Federal and State governments and weather alerts from the German Meteorological Service as well as flood information. These alerts are then displayed on an online map. And, if the user is located in one of the affected areas, NINA automatically sends a push alert. Thanks to transmitter masts, GPS sensors and WiFi hubs it is generally possible to pinpoint a smarthphone's location. Moreover, users can forward alerts by e-mail or SMS to other people in their contacts who don't have a smartphone. Finally, NINA also offers tips on what to do in emergencies.

The Katwarn warning app, developed by the Fraunhofer Institute, is conceived for users who wish to receive mainly regional or local alerts. It displays warnings of dangers in the corresponding location or the zip code area entered by the user. The app also indicates what action the user should take in a given situation, such as avoiding specific locations or staying home. The app is not available nationwide. Approximately 70 cities and districts have opted for this warning system so far. You can find a list of them online.

Both warning apps are available free from the App Store.

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