12 years ago
Some of these are good. Some, I'm not sure. In several days,
I'll post my thoughts.
50 Emergency Uses for Your Camera Phone
by Paul Purcell
In an emergency you'll not only need to provide
and receive help, but after the event is over,
you'll face the prospect of return, repair, and
rebuilding. Central to all these activities is
communication and documentation. Everything in
our society carries a heaping helping of red
tape, and disasters are no different. Below are
50 of the many ways one simple tool, in this
case the camera phone, can be used in an
emergency to help you document, record, and
relay some of your more important pieces of
Granted, any camera could be used for some of
the things listed below, but the phonecam
carries a distinct advantage with it. It can
immediately transmit the pictures it takes.
If you don't have a phonecam, that's okay. Go
with what you have, or with what you can afford.
Disposable film cameras and digital cameras are
acceptable, and microcassette recorders that
will let you record information verbally are
useful as well.
However, the phonecam rules, so let's look at
ways yours can be used in an emergency. The
following are excerpts from our book "Disaster
Prep 101" found at
1. Last minute child ID. Whenever the family
might be separated, take a series of last-
minute pictures of all family members,
especially the kids, and also the pets. You
might need this to reunite the family later.
2. Draw a map, shoot it, send it. Trying to
send or receive directions to or from a certain
location and voice directions just aren't
cutting it? Draw a map on paper, take a
picture, and send.
3. Injury photos to the doctor. Suppose you're
in a situation where you can't get to help and
they can't get to you, and someone's sick or
injured. If there are visible signs or symptoms,
your phonecam can relay these to medical
personnel who can walk you through whatever
treatment is possible where you are.
4. Damage documentation for insurance. In mass
catastrophes, it'll be days or longer before
even the first insurance adjusters get there
to file claims on your behalf. Photo all the
damage you can in case some of it gets
repaired or cleaned up before your agent
5. Report suspicious activity. Are you part
of a neighborhood watch group? If you see
suspicious activity, you can upload pictures
of suspects and the situation to the Police
6. "Here's the landmark I'm near." In an
emergency, gathering with the family at a
"rendezvous point" is one of the most critical
steps you'll take. If you don't have a fixed
meeting place, you can send pictures of where
and what you're near so the others can find
you. This also works well if you're lost
and/or injured in the wilderness and you
need to relay pictures of landmarks so Search
and Rescue teams can find you.
7. "Meet us at this landmark." If you have a
fixed rendezvous point and you want to relay
the info to others, send a pic you already
have on file, so others will know where to
meet. Take these file photos while compiling
your family emergency plan.
8. Photo shopping list. If you're about to
stock your pantry in anticipation of an
emergency, such as if you're planning on
sheltering-in-place during a hurricane,
take a picture of your pantry as a quick
way to list things you need from the store.
9. Driving directions. If you're trying to
tell others where a certain location is, such
as an emergency shelter, you can send them a
picture by picture set of driving directions.
This is another good thing to create while
putting your family reaction plan together.
10. "Meet this person." Let's say your family
had to evacuate, and they know the address
they're supposed to head to, but not everyone
has met the family emergency contact person.
Send them a picture of the person they're
supposed to meet, or you can send your contact
person some pictures of the people heading
11. Last minute property inventory. Just as
you'd photo the family in anticipation of an
emergency, you should do the same with your
property. If you're about to evacuate, snap
some quick shots of your property to include
any new purchases not included in your last
full home inventory, and to show the current
condition of your property in general.
12. "Adventure" journal. Who says every
potential disaster situation has to be a
total disaster? One way to look at it is as
an adventure. Take some pictures to record
what you do, the places you go during
evacuation, people you meet along the way,
13. Situational severity. In a large-scale
emergency, first responders will be spread
thin and overworked. They might not have
anyone to send to get you out of a partly-
flooded neighborhood, or to help put out a
tiny grass fire. However, the situation might
actually be worse than they understand, and
you might need some serious help. Sending a
picture of just how bad the situation is might
14. Quick text messaging. Time is critical in
an emergency and so are communications. You
might not have enough time to punch in a text
message, and the lines might not be open long
enough for a conversation. If that's the case,
write a note on paper, take a picture, and
15. Minor traffic mishap documentation. If you
have a minor fender-bender while evacuating,
and there are no injuries and no one's car
needs to be towed, most jurisdictions will
tell you to "swap info and move along." If
that's the case (always call 911 to ask and
make sure), take photos of the vehicular
damage, people involved, witnesses at the
scene (and their car tag numbers), and if
your phone has video, take video of others
involved in the accident to show their
injuries (or lack thereof).
16. Wallet backup. Just as you'd photograph
family members and property, take pictures
of your wallet's contents (or important
documents) in order to record numbers, and
show that cards actually are or were in your
possession. Be very careful when storing or
transmitting these pictures as the info is
very sensitive and can be used for identity
17. Inclement weather reporting. If you're
the first one to see the funnel cloud, heavy
hail, or a river starting to overflow,
sending a picture in to the weather service
or proper authorities is undeniable and rapid
proof that severe weather or other emergency
18. First Responder intel. The more first
responders know about the true nature of a
collapsed house, an auto accident, a fire in
progress, or any other emergency, the more
rapid and appropriate a reaction they can make.
19. Missing persons report. Send picture of
picture. Let's say a family member goes missing.
In addition to the last minute photos you took,
you could also send a picture of a photograph
you might have in your purse or wallet. This
will save a lot of time for you and the
20. Relay property damage to or from neighbors.
Suppose your neighborhood was heavily damaged
in a disaster. Whoever goes home first, either
you or your neighbors, could photograph
neighborhood and home damage and relay the
info to the other.
21. Help insurance adjusters find your property.
After a devastating incident, street signs will
be gone, house numbers won't be visible, etc.
Take current pictures of landmarks or any kind
of unique damage near or at your property. This
will make it easier for your insurance adjuster
to find you.
22. Copy the bulletin boards. If you're in an
emergency shelter, and there's an info bulletin
board, you might need a lot of the info posted,
but not have time to write or anything to write
with or on. Take a picture!
23. Bus, subway, or city map info. If you're
anywhere you're not familiar with and you have
any sort of posted map, take a picture of it
to refer to later if you get lost.
24. Document your route. When traveling to a
new area, and either others will be following
later, or you want to be sure you can find your
way back, be sure to take pictures along the
way of landmarks at turns you make, forks in
the road, etc.
25. Record medicines or food brand needs. If you
have to relay information about your medications
to a doctor, or if you have special dietary needs
and need to send information regarding certain
product or food brands to an outside person or
service, then a picture really is worth a
26. Remember parking spot locations. Don't trust
your memory, trust a picture. Take a quick pic
of where you left your vehicle either in a lot
or in a parking deck.
27. Pic of engine problems for mechanic.
Should you break down on the road and your
vehicle shows outward signs of engine problems
such as steam shooting from a certain hose, or
liquids dripping from a place on the engine,
send a pic to a mechanic who may be able to
talk you through a quick fix to get you back
on the road.
28. Business or service function and/or hours.
Just as you'd photograph a map, you might want
to copy posted business hours or listed service
functions (and pricing) for later review and
recall. This is also a good way to report price
gouging on the road.
29. Allowable child custodian. If you can't
get to your kids who are at school or some
other function, relay a picture of the person
who is coming in your stead to pick them up.
Send this picture to both the school or
function, and to your child (if they have
their own phonecam).
30. Relay info on injured or hospitalized people.
You might be in a position to send pictures to
people looking for loved ones or vice-versa.
31. Remember your hotel room. Whenever you get
a hotel room, take a picture so you can find
your way back. Photo not only the room number
on the door, but the name of the motel and
adjacent buildings for reference.
32. ID your evac gear. As with all your
belongings, take a picture to prove ownership.
One situation where this might come in handy
is with petty theft in emergency shelters. It's
actually a rare occurrence, but it's best to be
ready to prove things are yours.
33. Photo scavenger hunt. If you've settled down
a bit, say at your emergency shelter or temporary
stopover, you'll need something to entertain the
kids. Give them a short list of things they should
take a picture of. First one to take all the
listed pictures wins!
34. Identify the close-up. Another entertainment
idea is to take a really close up picture of
something while the kids aren't looking, and
have them figure out what it is.
35. Document your whereabouts during civil unrest.
Another remote possibility, but since these things
do happen, it's best to be ready. Let's say you're
in a location where looting is occurring, or
rioting about to happen. You can either help the
Police by secretively taking pictures of the
perpetrators (not really recommended for safety
reasons), or you can take pictures as you're
leaving the area to document the fact that you
weren't part of the trouble.
36. ID the rescue team. If a rescuer is picking
up your child or pet, you want to photo the
rescuer (and the child or pet) and the vehicle
they used. Get their name tag in the picture as
well as registration numbers on helicopters,
vehicle tags numbers, or names of boats.
37. Document your cleanup efforts. It may be a
while before your insurance adjuster can arrive.
Take pictures of the damage as you found it,
and steps you took during cleanup. Regarding
insurance or recovery grants, NOTHING beats
38. Document your repair or cleanup expenditures.
If you buy goods or supplies, rent equipment, or
hire a service, in addition to keeping your
receipts, be sure to photograph the goods
acquired, the equipment being used, or the
service being performed (also photo the people
involved where possible).
39. Transmit property item pics to retrieval
companies. Some scenarios will see you unable
to return home. Some companies are trained and
equipped to go into these areas to help people
gather certain belongings. Having property
photos stored on your phone will allow you
to send pictures of specific property items
you'd like retrieved.
40. Document location / status of fellow
evacuees. Authorities will not only want to
know who is injured, dead, or missing, but
they'll want to know who is okay and where
they are. Taking pictures of those you meet
along with way whether it's during an
evacuation, or of people at your emergency
shelter, will help ID the living and well.
41. Bridge the language barrier. A picture is
worth a thousand words. Ever try to find the
restroom in a foreign country and you didn't
know the proper phrase? Imagine how guests in
our country would feel in emergency situations
where they needed much more than a restroom and
didn't know how to ask. Pictures would make
that process a hundred times easier, whether
you're trying to understand their needs, or
relay yours to them.
42. Transmit road conditions. Let's say after
a hurricane, you're one of the first families
returning to a damaged area, and you're taking
back roads. Authorities (or others following
you later) might not have had a chance to check
every avenue of return. If there's damage that
needs to be reported, or no damage at all (which
should also be reported), sending a picture can
relay tons of information, especially if a roadway
has received damage and road crews need to know
what kind of damage and its extent.
43. Relay traffic conditions. If family or group
members are separated, or heading in different
directions, you might need to pass along traffic
conditions or the info from traffic warning signs.
44. Crime scene evidence. Many times, people
have returned from an evacuation to a home that
was undamaged during the event, but later looted.
Since the Police might not be able to show up
right away, go ahead and take "crime scene" photos
(for both Police and insurance) just as you'd
photograph your property if it was damaged in
45. Too much info on the screen to copy? Shoot
it. Should the TV flash some pertinent information
on the screen and you don't have time to write
it down, or should you have a lot of text on a
computer screen and you can't print it out, take
a picture for later review.
46. Positive ID to or from your doctor and/or
pharmacy. Medical needs are a very real
probability during an emergency. Since you can't
get to your doctor in person, and they might be
phoning in a prescription to a pharmacy that
doesn't know either of you, use your phone to
verify your identity to your doctor, and your
doctor can relay the picture to the pharmacy so
they'll know who's coming to get the meds.
47. Emergency supply information. Suppose a
developing emergency has caught you low on goods
or gear and you send different people to
different locations to help stock up. If
supplies are low, these family members may
need to send a picture of the types or brands
of items available so you can make educated
48. Picture file of "Last Minute List" items and
shutdown. Though everyone should keep a "bugout
kit" packed and ready to go, there will be items
which cannot duplicated and/or packed in advance.
In addition to creating a written "Last Minute
List," create a photo file showing all the items
you want to take with you (and their location)
and things you should do to shut down and secure
the house before leaving.
49. Evac atlas. Create your own "evac travel
atlas" of emergency assets available along your
probable evacuation routes. This might include
lodging, ATM locations, hospital emergency rooms,
etc. Travel the routes and take photos, or draw
your own maps and shoot that.
50. Photo reaction plan for the reading disabled.
If a family member suffers from any reading
disability, such as Dyslexia, using photos is
a must. Create a photo file that will relay
your entire emergency plan without using text.
51. Since InfoQuest always does more than
expected, here's a bonus idea. Your camera
phone can relay pictures of structural damage
to a structural engineer who can tell you how
to shore up certain walls, where safe spots
might be, where hidden dangers might be, etc.,
as your Search and Rescue team looks through a
collapsed building for survivors.
These are just some of the many ways a camera
phone can be used to help in an emergency. Take
a look around at your family and your current
threats, needs, and assets and look at ways you
can put your phonecam to use. Better yet, look
at the things you can do so that your phonecam
isn't needed at all!
Copyright 2005 - 2007, Paul Purcell.
About the author: Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based
security analyst and preparedness consultant with
over twenty years risk management and preparedness
experience. He's also the author of