Oct 10, 2020 - Science

An app for the disaster era

The Harbor app. Photo: Courtesy of Harbor
The Harbor app. Photo: Courtesy of Harbor

A new app guides users through the basic steps needed to prepare for natural disasters.

Why it matters: 2020 has already set records for wildfires on the West Coast, and Hurricane Delta — the 25th named storm of the season — just made landfall along the Gulf Coast. But you can shield your family from the worst if you prepare first.

How it works: The Harbor app, which launched on Thursday, provides personalized risk assessments for different disasters based on your zip code.

  • In New York, for instance, that means events like floods, winter storms and hurricanes, whereas in a place like Hawaii you'll be prompted to prepare for volcanoes and tsunamis.
  • The app leads you through a day-by-day checklist of what you need to do to prepare for disasters, from setting up emergency contacts to laying in supplies of food, water and medicine.

What they're saying: "These events are going to affect everyone, and they need to be prepared for that," says Dan Kessler, Harbor's CEO.

  • Kessler previously worked at Headspace, and Harbor bears some similarities to the popular mediation app, from its relaxing, cottony visuals to the way it gamifies a quotidian activity with constant reinforcement and a steadily rising level of difficulty.
  • He sees the app creating a new consumer category around digitized disaster prep. "There are a lot of people out there who own Pelotons but don't have fire extinguishers."

The big picture: According to a recent survey, a majority of Americans believe they'll be personally affected by a natural disaster over the next three to five years, but more than a quarter say they have taken no steps to prepare.

  • 2020's year of disaster is likely a sign of catastrophes to come — the Red Cross provided 807,454 nights of shelter to disaster victims through Sept. 25, already four times the annual average between 2011 and 2019.
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