15 November 2010

A phone application (app) to help people survive natural disasters is being developed by a team at The University of Queensland (UQ).

Targeted at young people, the phone app will provide new technology to assist people to access emergency information, find out details about the natural disaster at their location and to provide information to emergency services, including helping emergency services to locate them.

It will be tested in Queensland first, but it will have potential to be used anywhere in the world. Its designers say it could be particularly valuable for interstate and overseas travellers who find themselves caught in a natural disaster such as a cyclone, flood, fire, earthquake or tsunami.

UQ’s School of Journalism and Communication and Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology are working in partnership with Volunteering Queensland to develop the phone app, which is due for release at the end of 2011.

School of Journalism and Communication’s Anthony Frangi is managing the project and has worked extensively as a media consultant helping overseas radio stations with operating emergency broadcast services.

“While radio and television is a traditional method for getting information out to people about emergency situations, young people aged under 25 do not listen to radio extensively and so are at risk of not being informed if an emergency situation develops,” Mr Frangi said.

“Mobile phones, however, are used extensively by youth and can be a vital form of communication during natural disasters.

"We will be designing the phone app after surveying young people about the services they need and are currently using and determining the best way to reach the most people during times of natural disasters."

Mr Frangi said he hoped to develop the phone app to be a two-way communication system that will assist emergency services to locate people in trouble and provide a portal for phone users to report on situations to emergency services.

“Using existing mobile phone technology we hope to incorporate the ability to inform emergency services, family and friends where the person is located using GPS technology and allow them to also keep track of family and friends around them,” Mr Frangi said.

The natural disaster phone app project is funded through the joint State and Federal Government-funded Natural Disaster Resilience Program.

Media: Anthony Frangi, UQ School of Journalism and Communication (0419 677 545, a.frangi@uq.edu.au) or Kathy Grube, UQ Communications (07 3346 0561, k.grube@uq.edu.au)