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Smartphone Apps Becoming Important Tool In Hurricane Preparation

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — While storms are no stranger to many people, using your phone to help navigate through one may be new to you.

Many smartphone apps are helping people to not only track hurricanes but to find gas and stay in touch with loved ones.

EXTRA: Staying In Irma’s Path? What You Should Know

As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, Zello Walkie Talkie is currently the No. 1 free download in the App Store.

Scott Grossman and his family in Weston, Florida, just downloaded and tested it out Friday in preparation of Hurricane Irma on the recommendation of friends.

“It works good,” Grossman said. “It’s just like a walkie-talkie.”

Unlike walkie-talkies, Zello does rely on cell networks or Wi-Fi to operate where signals are weak or nonexistent, allowing people to better stay in touch. It also has group messaging.

MORE: Florida Residents Head For Safety As Powerful Hurricane Irma Approaches

According to the app, you can “find and connect to the local search-and-rescue channels on Zello or, if there is none, make your own.”

Zello uses a fraction of the bandwidth of phone calls and will often work when calls won’t get through.

Grossman said this is the first storm where he’s using technology as part of his preparation.

“There’s definitely more information at your disposal,” he said. “It’s right in the palm of your hand, and the Zello app hopefully works throughout the storm.”

The GasBuddy app is another helpful resource.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott recommended the app to drivers scrambling to find a station with gas. It is currently the No. 2 downloaded app.

The app is crowd-sourced, letting drivers know about prices, closest stations and, in the case of Hurricane Irma preps, which station actually has fuel.

Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, puts some of the blame of fuel shortages on Hurricane Harvey, which knocked out oil refineries in Texas.

“It becomes very difficult to keep up with that level of demand,” he said.

“The fact that fuel supplies are already constrained is making the situation almost as bad as it gets.”

DeHaan says GasBuddy has been beefing up its servers to make sure it can handle the extra load of users.

A couple of things to point out:

• Zello Inc. says when you’re actively using its app, it will drain your battery. It recommends having an external battery pack.

• Also Snapchat’s Snap Map will let you share your location publicly or with friends on an interactive map.

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