What started out as a “joke app” is being marshaled to provide supporters of Israel worldwide with real-time updates on missile attacks against Israel, “adopted” by two Israeli app developers to spread the word on what Israelis are facing. This comes during an escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, who are firing dozens of rockets and missiles at Israel every day. Israel is hitting back with airstrikes and building up ground forces on the border.

The Yo! app joins the veteran Red Alert: Israel app to inform users on exactly where the rockets fired at Israel by Gaza terrorists are aimed, said app co-author Ari Sprung.

When Israel embarked on the Pillar of Defense operation in 2012 in response to the unending rocket attacks against Israel’s south by Gaza terrorists, Sprung and his partner Kobi Snir were concerned that not all those in the affected areas would hear the newly instituted “Red Color” emergency sirens that were supposed to warn residents 15 seconds in advance of a rocket explosion. So as a “backup” warning system, they developed Red Alert: Israel, an app that sounds a warning on cellphones at the same time the real siren goes off.

Now, in 2014, with the Israeli military (IDF) embarking on what could be a long-term campaign against Hamas, missiles and rockets are likely to continue falling on Israel’s south, and perhaps center, as well — and Red Alert: Israel has gained renewed popularity, not only among residents of the south, said Sprung, but among supporters of Israel abroad.

In an effort to get the information about what is going on in Israel to even more people, said Sprung, he and Snir have teamed up with the people at Yo!, the “joke app” that made headlines a few weeks ago when it raised a million dollars from investors. In an example of how “socially redeeming” Yo! can be, users of the app who subscribe to updates from Red Alert: Israel will get a “Yo!” every time a warning is sounded anywhere in Israel, said Sprung.

The Red Alert: Israel platform (for iOS and Android) “has turned into a way for people throughout Israel and around the world to show their empathy for Israel,” Sprung told The Times of Israel. “People who have relatives and friends in the affected areas who want real-time updates on what is happening have been downloading the app, as have many people around the world. Our servers have been overloaded with download requests over the past several days.”

The app sounds a distinct alarm, like an emergency siren, when a Red Color alert is set off anywhere in Israel, listing the location and time of the projected strike. The app sends out its warning at the same time the military’s Homefront Command issues an order to activate the warning system, said Sprung. The app gets its information from the IDF and the Homefront Command, he added, but declined to discuss the process by which the data gets into the app. “It’s classified,” Sprung half-joked. The app also features a chat area, where residents — or anyone else — can comment on their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.

After Pillar of Defense, Sprung said he and his partner got a request from the Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, for an English-language version, which is now available in the App Store. Sprung said that he and Snir are working on translations into other languages as well.

The return of massive rocket and missile attacks has brought about the “revival” of other on-line vehicles that help supporters of Israel keep track of the action in the South. Among them is Qassam Count, which lists the specifics of the rockets Gaza terrorists fire at Israel. Qassam Count’s Facebook page and Twitter feed gathers links to stories about attacks that appear all over the Internet, often giving a fuller picture of the attacks than most Israelis are aware of. The authors are careful to post only publicly available information, the site says. Inspired by Qassam Count is a new site, called Iron Dome Count, which shows off the success of the Israeli anti-missile system, employed to shoot down missiles heading for populated areas.

Possibly the most effective site demonstrating what Israelis in the targeted areas have to live with was put together by Ben Lang, author of the Israel Start-Up Map, a graphic illustration of where Israeli start-ups are located, who runs them, and what they do. In order to drive home the situation Israelis in the south endure and have suffered under for more than a decade, Lang put together a page called Life Under Fire. Clicking on the page sets off a timer — a fifteen second timer, the amount of time most Israelis in the south have to get to a shelter when the Red Alert system is enacted.

And after 15 seconds? Then comes the boom, and the sirens, in their full audio impact. It’s as close as one would hope to be to a target, and it communicates clearly exactly what it is like to live in a situation where you could find yourself in mortal danger, just seconds into the future — but without the actual danger.

Sprung and Snir are trying to figure out how to ensure that their app gets maximum exposure. “We don’t charge for the app, and it’s supported strictly by donations, which somewhat limits us,” said Sprung. For example, the Android version of the app is available only in Israel, because it’s stored on the Israeli servers of the Google Play app store. “We need more server space so we can get this app into the hands of more people,” said Sprung. “More people than ever want to know what is going on in Israel in real time, and our app, unfortunately, is necessary in order to spread that information.”

Screenshot of the Red Alert: Israel app (Photo credit: Courtesy)