As Israelis deal with Operation Protective Edge in Gaza and hundreds of rockets reaching the south and central regions, the country has turned to technology to try to ease some of the difficulties.
Here are six ways that technology and social media are changing the way Israelis gather information in real time about rocket attacks.
Some of them are relatively traditional; others involve fresh technology.
1. Red Alert smartphone app
This simple platform alerts users when there is a Red Alert for a specific area and can work in tandem with the “Yo!” joke messaging app. The app, whose developers spoke to The Times of Israel on Tuesday, is meant to be a backup and not a substitute for paying heed to the Code Red Siren. Sometimes the alerts can be delayed by up to 30 seconds, and some users have reported that the app is crashing under heavy usage. An English version is now available.
2. United Hatzalah’s SOS NowForce app
Sign up at sos.nowforce.com
This app was developed by United Hatzalah’s emergency first responders following the kidnapping of the three teenagers on June 12. One of the most heartbreaking moments of the search for the kidnapped teens was the call Gil-ad Sha’ar made to the emergency hotline 100 where he whispered “I’ve been kidnapped,” though the call was not handled in the correct way. With the app, you can swipe the screen rather than make a phone call to notify emergency services. If you activate the app, a call goes out simultaneously to the police and to United Hatzalah’s 24/7 dispatch center. United Hatzalah receives the phone’s GPS coordinates and alerts the police of the exact location. In addition to tracking the user via the smartphone, the system contacts any family or friends that are pre-programmed into the system during registration. More than 100,000 Israelis have downloaded the app since it was released on June 19.
In addition to staying updated on your friends’ snarky comments as they deal with an uncertain and difficult situation, Twitter has a lot of resources from official channels that can be useful for people trying to stay informed. Here are some suggestions:
@alarmdarom – English updates of current Code Red alerts
@MickyRosenfeld – Israel police national spokesman
@IDFspokesperson – The official IDF Twitter account
@MitchGins – Mitch Ginsburg, Times of Israel military correspondent
@QassamCount – updates about where rockets have fallen
This isn’t a new technology, but radio stations are more failproof than the smartphone applications, which have been reported to be more than 30 seconds late in some cases. A number of apps, like Rlive.co.il and TuneIn Radio, let you tune in to the airwaves on your phone. These FM radio stations, managed by the Home Front Command, are silent unless there is a Code Red alert, which means they can be left on all the time, including at night and on Shabbat for observant households.
101.5 – Ashkelon and communities surrounding Gaza Strip
95.8 – Lehavim, Meitar, Arava, and Mitzpe Ramon
97.0 – Beersheba and the surrounding towns
91 – Rishon L’Zion
89.1 - Center
5. Secure Space app
Before you hear the siren, you should always know where the closest protected area is to you. In many apartment buildings the stairs are protected areas, though it’s also a good idea to know where the closest bomb shelter is for longer periods of time. For iPhone users, an app called “Secure Space” can help you locate the nearest bomb shelter. Currently, the app is only in Hebrew and covers the cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Beersheba, and is not available for Android users. Android users in Tel Aviv can use the “Shelter” app to locate their nearest bomb shelter based on their GPS location, or the Tel Aviv municipality app for Android or iPhone which lists bomb shelters in addition to other services. For people in Jerusalem, the municipality website has a PDF to help you locate your closest bomb shelter, or you can call the Municipality hotline at 106 to ask.
Here is a PDF from the Home Front Command in English with emergency numbers and maps of the siren regions
The general number for the Home Front Command is 104.
6. A web of connections
WhatsApp has garnered a bad name over the past month for spreading rumors quickly, especially during the search for the kidnapped teenagers when gossip hopscotched across the country that the boys had been found when they had not. But the messaging service is also an incredible tool for disseminating information. Currently, there are a number of messages going around WhatApp with information for residents who want to evacuate from the south and are looking for places where they can get free meals or numbers they can call to arrange to stay in a private home in the north of Israel. Information is also circulating about road closures due to rockets and free activities, such as museums and national parks, for residents going north to avoid the rockets.
In a time where rockets are interrupting wedding ceremonies and canceling summer camps, there’s something to be said for being able to reach out to the wider world after you’ve emerged from a bomb shelter. “Social media helps us feel as if we’re never alone, so in addition to being the most immediate source of updates and information it enables us to check in with one another and to share our experiences with people around the world,” said Avi Mayer, the spokesman for the Jewish Agency who tweets (@AviMayer) on a personal basis and has an extensive following on Twitter and Facebook. “This puts a human face to the breaking news, and I think makes the events here seem a lot more close and personal to those who aren’t experiencing them themselves. I think it has helped people here cope with the events and helping those who aren’t here feel a part of what’s going on,” he said.
How are you using social media to cope with or find information about Operation Protective Edge? Let us know in the comments below.