Disaster has struck. Maybe it’s just your city, or maybe it’s the whole region. You need to know where your loved ones are. You also want to send the mobilization message to your bug-out team, but are they even in town? How do you start your bug-out journey? We review one tool that can help.

As was said in Part I of our recent serious on bug-out planning:

It’s safe to assume that the family or group will be scattered across the city, at best. At worst, members are out of town with limited or no means of communication. These factors complicate and unravel any good bug-out plan. Even the most decorated combat veteran will feel the gut wrenching pain when realizing that loved ones are possibly far away and unreachable if a sudden event arises. Communication or a complete understanding of when and where to meet will be required to keep order.

Here’s a free tool that can help in certain scenarios: the phone app “Life 360.”

Get a copy here.

A couple of caveats before we dig deeper:

  • We don’t get anything for this review. It’s simply one solution which may be of use to many of our readers, and we wanted to let all of you know. I use this app and have enjoyed the features, though it has not been tested in a TEOTWAWKI event yet. There are probably other apps like it, but I have not used them and cannot comment.
  • This only helps in disaster scenarios in which the phone grid is still operating. If you are reading Patriots by Rawles, this tool would be useful as the “Crunch” proceeds until about page 10 when the power grid goes down after several months of growing chaos.
  • While not as collapse-proof as a small handheld HAM radio, it is dual-purpose in that aside from helping you in any disaster in which cell phones are still operating (think of news stories about disasters where phone calls are still being made out of the disaster zone), it also helps in risk management in everyday life up until disaster.
  • It’s free.

Before Disaster

Most use you will see for this is going to be pre-disaster (unless it happens this week…)

So what can it do for you? How does it work? As I said, I use it.

First, you download and setup the app into each family (or team) member’s smartphone (has to be a phone capable of running apps). Whoever is the leader should probably setup first. Once the app exists in each phone, then you can send invites to other people who have the app. Setup is most easily done when two phones are side by side. It generates an invite code which you send to people you know. Once they accept the invite, you can configure further. You can set photos, pull data from social media accounts in your phone, and create circles and places.

Circles are much like those in Google+ if you’ve used it. They are a way to organize people. For the survivalist, you could create a “Family” circle and a “Bug-Out Team” circle, because you don’t necessarily want every family alert and communication going to all the team members as well. The creator of the circle who invited everyone else is the one who controls the circle, letting people in or out and adjusting other settings. That’s why the family or team leader should be doing the setup.

Places allow you to set common destinations so that the app can notify you when a circle member enters or leaves the vicinity of a place. Most folks will likely set “Home” and “Work.” The free version of the app only lets you set two places. If you pay for a premium subscription, you can set unlimited places.

Once everyone is setup, you can begin using the features. The image above shows 3 screen captures of some of the app features. For members of a circle, it tells you where they are and the level of accuracy, and how aged that data is. It gives quick links to private message them, force an update of location data, call them, or get directions to reach them (in case of emergency). It also tells you how much battery life remains in the member’s phone (not visible in sample picture).

The middle image above is where most folks will get the best use. There it shows a map and where the various circle members are currently located. (When you open the app, it auto-zooms to simultaneously show all circle members at their last updated location). On the map, the app also shows all nearby fire stations, police stations, hospitals, registered sex offenders, and recent crime data.

In the sample image above you can make out a few small symbols on the map. The circle with an orange flame inside marks a fire station, the circle with a blue shield marks a police station, and the circle with a red cross marks a hospital or medical facility. Each can be clicked on and the app will tell you the name and address of the facility. The purple dots on the map are recent crimes (you can toggle how recent of a crime you want to know about). Clicking on the dot will give you the title of the reported crime and the date. A purple circle with a white center, the same size as the crime dots, marks registered sex offender addresses. Clicking on one of those will give you the registered number, vital stats (name/race/sex/height/weight/birthdate/age/photo), what they were charged with and the age and sex of the victim. Be cautioned though, garbage in is garbage out and sometimes offenders register false addresses to escape accountability.

So typical everyday use might involve the ability to watch a spouse’s progress as they run an errand. Let’s say things are running long, a snowstorm arrived while they are out, and you’re not getting an answer by phone and you are concerned. You open Life 360 and can see immediately where are they now. Maybe they are still in the store and simply have poor phone reception. If they are moving along the road, you can see that as well. A toggle allows you to see a history of recorded locations. So if the history shows progress along the road, then all is probably well. If it shows them at the same spot on a remote highway for the last 30 minutes, with location info current, you might have reason to be concerned and can pop up directions to reach them directly.

Retreat Research

Let’s say you are doing research on retreat locations because you are looking to more to a secure retreat. Some question on your mind might be:

  • How far to the nearest medical facility? Nearest police or fire station?
  • How safe is this neighborhood?
  • If your kid will be going to the local public school, does it look like a safe area?

When thinking safety, a lot of crime dots in the last week might suggest you should look elsewhere. A high concentration of registered sex offenders in the vicinity of your kid’s potential school (or day care or whatever) might suggest choosing another place to send your kid. It all depends on the level of risk you are comfortable with.

If you are older or have a health condition and need regular access to medical facilities, this app could show you which ones are nearby and how far to each.

TEOTWAWKI

Of course, the big life saver will be on the day of disaster. Of course, since it requires the phone grid, members would have to be within reception of an active tower.

But even if a local grid is down (and you still have coverage) it could still tell you where members were last located before the outage.

For an economic or social collapse, or any other gradual collapse scenario, this app would cover you at about the same level as your daily use until the grid finally collapses. For a natural disaster, it really depends on how widespread and severe the disaster is. Just because a flood swept through the valley doesn’t mean the towers on the nearby mountain peaks are affected. For terrorist attack, if authorities haven’t shut the grid down you can check on your people. Even if a local grid is down, you could still see if they were outside the affected area or if their last known location was inside the zone. I knew a young career woman who was supposed to be in the towers on 9/11 but called in sick that morning. If something like that happened today and she was my adult daughter, I could find out in an instant that she was still at home as the news unfolds. For EMPs, you’re probably out of luck, but again it depends on the size and scale of the disaster.

Recommendation

Like I said, I use this app and have done so for years. I use the free version and based on how easy it has been throughout that time, I’d call this a 5 of 5 star must-have for family safety and security.

The only annoyance I’ve had is that it needs to run in the background and so after killing apps for phone battery or working memory, I start getting emails that I or a specific circle member hasn’t connected to Life 360 in 24 hours or more. That minor irritation is a small price to pay for every time I (or a loved one) has wondered where the other is and wanted to check.

If you live in the city with all its crime and someone went for a walk, it is good to be able to see where they are and know they are still moving along the expected route. If someone is commuting and heavy weather rolls in, it is good to see how they are doing, especially if you don’t want to distract them with a call or text at the moment. Maybe you come home and your loved one is unexpectedly absent. A quick look at Life 360 can confirm if they ran down to the local grocery store.

If you have a spouse or children, get this app. Maybe get a cheap smartphone for the kid just so this app can go everywhere with them and let you know they are safe. And if you’re a single guy getting ready for TEOTWAWKI, this is one option that might help you kick off your bug-out call to your team.