Zello is a free walkie-talkie app that launched in 2011 and made it to the top of the U.S. app store this week thanks to hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Zello lets users use their phones as walkie-talkies or two-way radios as long as there’s a network or Wi-Fi connection. Anyone can join channels and instantly send voice messages or photos. The app doesn’t have ads but there is a paid version for companies.
Rescue workers in the past have used it but a volunteer rescue group called the Cajun Navy that formed after Hurricane Katrina started frequently using it, which helped make it popular. When Hurricane Harvey hit, new channels started popping up on the app for groups like Texas Search and Rescue and Houston-area midwives.
As you can read in this detailed Houston Chronicle article, the app is key in disasters when 911 and first responders are unavailable. The writer says she learned, “One of the key suggestions of the training session was that when I received a rescue request, I needed to try to call the person making the request if possible to get more details and to ensure that it was a legitimate request. Unfortunately, there had been reports of people calling in fake rescue requests and then robbing the volunteers when they arrived. Despicable.”
If or sadly when there’s another disaster and you need or want to help, download Zello and get crackin’.