App developed to help ease the stress of being stranded

During the colder time of the year we pack our vehicles with a winter survival kit.

By COLE BENZ | Herald Editor | cbenz@countrymedia.net

During the colder time of the year we pack our vehicles with a winter survival kit. Filling it with items that can help you survive if you are ever stuck outside during harsh weather.

Thanks to an app developed by North Dakota State’s Extension Service in Fargo, N.D., you can use your smartphone device right along with your kit to survive if you are ever stranded in your vehicle.

Bob Bertsch, Web Technology Specialists with NDSU Agriculture Communication, was a part of the team that designed the app ‘The Winter Survival Kit.’

A fair amount of their work at the extension office in Fargo consists of disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. Having already developed an app to help people recount their possessions in the event of a disaster, ‘The Disaster Recovery Log,’ Bertsch and his team decided it might be a good time to tackle the stormy seasons of this part of the country.

“For some people who were experiencing the kind of flooding that we saw in Minot, they left with maybe just their smartphone,” Bertsch said. “This made sense in the context of winter driving too.”

Bertsch also said the app was made with the oil industry in mind. With the rise in energy occupations in the state, there are many people moving here who don’t know the severity of winter weather this region experiences, some may have not even seen snow.

“Especially with the oil boom, with a lot of new people coming to North Dakota, people who may not be so familiar with our weather, we thought, ‘hey this would be a good tool,” Bartsch said. “Having that smart phone with you, we just tried to develop something that would be as helpful as we possibly could in that situation.”

The app itself was developed by a group called Myriad Mobile, formerly Myriad Devices. Myriad Mobile was founded by two students at NDSU in 2011,  Jake Joraanstad and Ryan Raguse and has grown to include over 60 full time employees and offices all around the country. Myriad Mobile has been responsible for the development of the Valley News Live app, as well as the Scheels store app.

According to Bertsch, The Winter Survival Kit took about six months from concept and development to final release. The app was released for download in the fall of 2011.

The app is very intuitive, and can help ease the stress of becoming stranded. The Winter Survival Kit is available for for download on both Android and Apple iOS and is free of charge.

When you first download the app you press ‘Set Up,’ and it walks you through some steps to gather information that will help in the event the app is needed, though you can always go back and alter your settings.

The app will allow you to call 911 and find your location, but there are also many other features that stand out.

First, you are able to store important numbers, such as insurance policies or account numbers for any type of roadside assistance programs a person may be enrolled in. Second, the app has ability to store emergency contact numbers of people one would wish to alert. This feature allows you to send a mass text message, instead of individual messages, limiting the time you spend texting and saving necessary battery life.

The app also comes with an imbedded alarm system. The app will periodically alert the user to keep them awake and vigilant, but the alarm is also there to remind them to periodically turn off the car motor and check the engine, as well as examine the exhaust for snow accumulation in order to avert deadly carbon monoxide build up inside the vehicle.

Another feature of The Winter Survival Kit is its gas calculator. During the initial set up, you are asked to input what your gas tank capacity is. In the event the ‘I’m Stranded’ button is pressed, it asks the user to input how much gas is left in the tank. The app will then give the user a rough estimate of how long the car can stay running before it runs out of fuel.

Many of the features of the app were added with the hopes of relieving some of the stress and the anxious feelings of what to do next, and though it sounds complicated, Berstch said it’s an easy process to work through.

“You don’t have to worry about ‘what should I do,” Bartsch said. “If you hit the big I’m Stranded button it will walk you through it.”

Bertsch said he received some negative criticism regarding the app’s functionality, hearing people say that the app just contains ‘common sense.’ Bertsch tends to agree, but also said that stressful situations can make anyone forget common sense.

“Some of that help, the tips and stuff, people might have heard of before,” Bertsch said. “But when you’re in that situation it’s not always easy to call those to mind and the app is there to help you with that.”

Camille Grade, Marketing and Communications Manager with Myriad Mobile, thinks that’s the great part of the app.

“The beauty is in the simplicity of it,” Grade said.

Grade also noted that the app has won two national awards since its inception. In 2012 it won the FEMA Innovative Use of Technology award and won the White House Champions of Change award in 2013.

When the app was first developed, Bertsch said this concept matched what they set out to do with all of their products.

“When we’re doing mobile development we are always trying to find ways that we can leverage the capabilities of a smart phone to meet a specific need in a specific situation,” Bertsch said. “This was one of those.”

Right now, Bertsch and his team are developing another app that will help small businesses. It is called ‘The Small Business Disaster Plan’ and will be available only on the iPad initially. It is in its later stages of development right now, but Bartsch hopes to have it released in the near future.

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