No matter what your phone's settings, you now receive messages from the national wireless alert system. This text is a 21st-century version of those test patterns you used to see on TV: "In the event of an actual emergency, you would have been instructed to tune to one of the broadcast stations in your area…"
Thanks to technology, you can turn your phone into a live police and emergency scanner. Click or tap here to learn how.
Hundreds of mobile apps are designed to keep you informed about your life and environment -- from the length of your morning commute to the state of your finances.
Everything changes and mobile alerts remind us to stay up to date.
Here are a few easy suggestions you can rely on to make your life a little easier.
1. Latest weather warnings
Not all weather is unusual, but it almost always affects our day. Weather apps can help you dress, schedule, and prepare for serious problems, such as dangerous heat waves and flash floods.
Dark Sky is the most widely respected app, a slick and simple-to-use interface that pulls data from precise locations. You can set up various predetermined alerts that will pop up on your phone at specific times, on certain days, and whatever weather condition you want to be notified of. You can even set up a daily summary.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) app Hi-Def Radar (App Store or Google Play Store) isn't as flashy as Dark Sky, but NOAA satellites do offer clear maps and images. The NOAA app can also send alerts any time lightning strikes within 10 miles of your location, or when severe storm events break out in your vicinity.
RadarScope (App Store or Google Play Store) and Accuweather have similar (free) features. They also offer a similar customizable suite of notifications, which may be life-saving during tornado or flash-flood season.
2. Any banking activities
Banking notifications are helpful for two reasons: first, when automatic payments go through (or checks are finally cashed), so you can ensure that your accounts are current. Alerts may also nip criminal activity in the bud; if your debit card is skimmed or stolen, large purchases will register right away, and you can notify your bank.
Depending on which bank you use, you'll need to look in the app settings to set up special alerts, many of which utilize text messages instead of push notifications. Alternatively, apps like Mint can be set up to connect to your bank as a third-party app and can send you the same types of alerts, albeit with an expanded range of options.
These apps will need access to some of your private data, but they can act as useful tools when it comes to keeping up with your transactions, including the ones you may have forgotten about, as they'll pop up on your screen to remind you.
3. Traffic jams and accidents
You may live 15 minutes from your afternoon appointment, but a single accident could detain you for an hour. Knowing about traffic jams ahead of time could help you reroute your trip. That's where apps like Waze, Google Maps, and INRIX (App Store or Google Play Store) can help you plan your drive. Yes, each app has built-in GPS directions and features, but they're also capable of sending along alerts about traffic jams, accidents, hazardous conditions, and severe weather affecting particular routes.
Not only can they help you to outsmart traffic and figure out the best route to reach a particular destination, but most of them, particularly Waze, offer a wide selection of alert preferences. Waze, for instance, lets you set reminders for when you need to leave to get somewhere in a certain amount of time, having already chosen a route and letting you know when you need to be on your way.
4. Know when a person arrives or leaves an area
Not everyone understands Find My Friends, the tracking app that is included with every iPhone. For many people, this app can be a lifesaver: Find My Friends can be configured with special alerts that will let you know when a friend has arrived or left a destination. Keep track of loved ones who are sick or elderly, of minors traveling alone, or anyone with special needs or a habit of wandering off.
You can activate the feature by adding friends via the Home screen of the app, then adding a contact's name. Once done, you will need to share your location with the friends you want to track, allowing friend requests from those who want the same of you. You can choose to set up notifications to alert your friends when you arrive or leave a location, or vice versa to keep track of what your friends are up to.
Android users have a few different options to select from as well, such as the aesthetically pleasing Familo, which requires just a phone number to set up. There's also Glympse, or the Android version of Find My Friends, which is similar (though not identical) to the iPhone app.
5. Home activity and pet notifications
Not everybody can find a "sitter," yet your home -- and pets -- need attention while you're away. Luckily, apps like the security-based Nest or Arlo (App Store or Google Play Store) can send notifications based on motion or noise detection inside or outside your home. Meanwhile, fun apps like PetChatz (App Store or Google Play Store) send you alerts when your dog is noisy, indicating a possible burglar or a potential health concern. You can even communicate with your pet while you're out of the house.
There are various security suites that do require setup with either included cameras or your webcam to track what goes on with your pets and your home in the event there's an intruder. Many can be armed or disarmed remotely, and you can even set up alerts to let you know if a family member is the one to have tripped the security cam's sensor. These apps make it easy to protect your belongings, pets, and loved ones with alerts that pop up to make sure you know if anything is going down where you live.
6. Irregular or high heart rate
I have saved the most important for last because health-monitoring apps are specifically designed to save lives. The new Apple Watch Series 4 comes with a formidable app for tracking your heart rate. The app will alert you to irregular heartbeats, tachycardia, and other maladies that could require urgent attention.
You don't have to be an Apple user to benefit from alerts like this, however. Devices like the Fitbit, which can work with all smartphones, can quickly alert you when your resting heart rate is too high, though many of the more sophisticated tracking information will likely have to be left to the new Apple Watch devices, as they contain much more advanced tech to analyze this information. Still, essential alerts can be sent from your device to your phone as soon as a problem is detected.
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