Could Your Next App Save a Life?

04/30/2015 09:00 am ET | Updated Jul 09, 2015
Courtesy of American Red Cross

It's not every day that a child saves his father's life. But that's exactly what happened last year when Samuel Latham's dad started experiencing chest pains when the pair was driving from Tampa to Orlando.

Thinking quickly, the 11-year-old grabbed his dad's phone and pulled up the Red Cross First Aid App, looking for information on the symptoms his father was experiencing. Fearing cardiac arrest, Samuel insisted his father pull over to the side of the highway and called 9-1-1. Drawing upon his Red Cross Junior Lifeguard training, Samuel remained calm while interacting with the 9-1-1 operator, confidently responding to her questions and identifying highway landmarks to guide the first responders to his location. His dad survived and attended this month's ceremony in Orlando when Samuel was presented with the highest honor the Red Cross awards, the Lifesaving Certificate of Merit.

Samuel's story truly exemplifies the powerful intersection of technology and human networks. Without both the app and the in-person training, the story may not have had a happy ending. As smartphone, tablet and even next-gen technology such as the Apple Watch make app usage second-nature, we'll see more people responding appropriately to emergencies.

Let me be clear. Technology won't prevent a disaster and it can't solve post-disaster challenges. But as in young Samuel's case, it certainly can help save lives. A Red Cross survey found that mobile apps are now tied with social media as the fourth most popular way to get information during emergencies -- behind TV, radio and online news sites. Nearly 20 percent of Americans report receiving some kind of emergency information from an app they've downloaded. In part that's because apps allow instant access to safety and preparedness information whenever and wherever users encounter an emergency.

But it cannot be understated that apps - and technology - are not substitutes for human experience and knowledge. The new Red Cross Emergency App offers a "Make a Plan" feature so families can create their own plan on what to do in an emergency. The App serves as a guide, but without that human touch, the plan stays undone. Another detail I love about this app is "Family Safe," which allows users to receive emergency alerts for family and friends across the country and instantly check to see if they are safe. But the app also requires a human reaction. If a family member doesn't answer -- or replies "I'm not safe" -- the next step is to alert the local emergency response.

Having all family members trained in lifesaving skills is just as important as downloading an app. The executive director of the American Red Cross Greater Orlando Chapter that gave Samuel the Lifesaving Award puts it succinctly, "Don't wait until after an emergency to learn vital lifesaving skills. The life you save may be that of a family member or friend."

Malcolm X famously said, "The future belongs to those who prepare for it today." He could just as easily be talking about emergencies and disasters.

Make a plan. It pays to be prepared.

Learn more about the new Red Cross Emergency and First Aid apps here. To take a class, learn more about first aid, CPR, and AED training, visit Red Cross Take-A-Class

American Red Cross is a partner of Cisco CSR. Cisco sponsors The Huffington Post's ImpactX section.