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Tech tips

7 life-changing phone alerts you need to enable right now

No matter what your phone’s notification settings are, you’ll still receive messages from the national wireless alert system. These texts are a 21st-century version of the 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…”

But now, thanks to technology, you can turn your phone into a live police and emergency scanner. Tap or click here to find out 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. With the right mobile alerts enabled, you can stay safer and more aware of what’s going on. Here are a few new notifications you can subscribe to that 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 like heat waves and flash floods.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Hi-Def Radar app available for iOS from Apple’s App Store, offers 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 (App Store or Google Play Store) for Android and iOS 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. Second, alerts can also nip criminal activity in the bud. If your debit card is skimmed or stolen, large purchases will register right away, and you can give your bank a head’s up.

Depending on which bank you use, you’ll need to look in the app settings to set up special alerts, many of which use 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. Mint is available for both iOS and Android (App Store or Google Play Store).

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 can leave you stuck for an hour. Knowing about traffic jams ahead of time could help you reroute your trip. That’s where apps like Waze (App Store or Google Play Store) and Google Maps (App Store or Google Play Store) can help you plan your drive.

Each app has built-in GPS directions and features. They’re also capable of sending 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 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 comes 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.

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 similar option in the aesthetically pleasing Family Locator app, which lets you stay connected with the people who matter most. It’s a location sharing tracking app for your family and kids.

5. Irregular or high heart rate

Health-monitoring apps are important because they’re specifically designed to save lives. Apple Watch comes standard with an app for tracking your heart rate. It alerts you to irregular heartbeats, tachycardia, and other issues 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 also alert you when your resting heart rate is too high. The Fitbit app is available for both iOS and Android (Apple Store or Google Play Store).

6. Earthquake & Tsunami notifications

Depending on where you live in the country, you may be at risk of seismic events like earthquakes, eruptions or tsunamis. That’s why SMSTsunamiWarning exists. If you subscribe to this service, you’ll get text message alerts any time there’s a powerful seismic event threatening your area.

The company behind the service monitors seismic activity 24/7, so you’ll be first to know the moment a wave or earthquake has been detected. And even if you don’t live in an area with earthquakes or tsunamis, you can still stay informed in case a friend or family member lives in one of these regions.

To sign up, click Get Alerts on the SMSTsunamiWarning homepage and enter your information. You will start receiving notifications by email once the setup is complete. It’s also available as an app for iOS devices that you can get from Apple’s App Store.

7. Emergency notifications for your city or town

Many cities and towns offer digital alerts to keep residents informed about emergencies and other urgent events. To set them up, all you need to do is locate your city government’s official website and look for emergency notifications.

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As an example, take a peek at the official website for the City of Maricopa, Arizona. On Maricopa’s website, you can request notifications from the police, fire department, weather alerts and even nearby cities and counties.

You receive alerts by first clicking the news & notifications tab and then emergency notifications under the communications tab. All you need to do to sign up is create an account, fill out your information and select the services you want to receive notifications from.

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