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Dial up winter survival kit on smartphone

Bob Bertsch, Web technology specialist in agriculture communications for North Dakota State University, developed the Winter Survival Kit smartphone app. Special to The Forum

FARGO - If you get stuck in a ditch during a blizzard, don't know where you're at, and need to get help, well, there's an app for that.

The Winter Survival Kit app for Android and iPhone smartphones is a free download and is getting good ratings from the more than 12,000 people who decided to make it part of their cold-weather gear.

The app was born of a collaboration between the North Dakota State University Extension Service and Myriad Devices, a firm in NDSU's Research and Technology Park business incubator.

"It's one of the first apps we've done that could save someone's life. That's a big deal," said Jake Joraanstad, lead programmer for Myriad Devices.

The app acts like an electronic Swiss Army knife to help you survive extreme weather in a vehicle. It can:

•Call 911 to contact emergency services.

•Save a list of personal emergency contact numbers, such as spouse, family members, boss, friends, AAA and emergency roadside assistance. It also saves insurance policy numbers.

•Find your location. On phones with Global Positioning System capability, the app links to the satellite network so you can name nearby streets to rescuers.

•Estimate how long you can run your engine on your remaining fuel using a fuel consumption calculator.

•Keep you mindful of carbon monoxide poisoning. It will sound an alarm every 30 minutes to remind you to turn off your engine periodically and check the exhaust to be sure it ­doesn't get plugged by snow buildup.

•Give you tips on how to service your vehicle to be ready for cold weather and tell you what items you need to have a physical winter survival kit to stay warm and safe.

"The idea really came out of our efforts ... to help the people of North Dakota with disaster recovery and disaster education," said Bob Bertsch, NDSU's agriculture communication Web technology specialist.

NDSU had previously worked with Myriad to create a Disaster Recovery Journal app, which lets users record damages as they enter their flood-damaged homes using text, images and audio. It also tells users how to clean or otherwise deal with flood-damaged items.

Money left over from the federal grant that paid for the Disaster Recover Journal helped pay to create the Winter Survival Kit app, Bertsch said.

Unfortunately, the app is not available for Blackberry or Windows Phone devices, Bertsch and Joraanstad said.

It took two months of work to design, create and test the app before it was released, Joraanstad said.

There has been "a massive amount of people downloading it. So we're pretty excited about that," Joraanstad said.

Bertsch said the next app in development will help people interested in buying a furnace compare the cost of fuels for home heating.

He said it will compare the costs of electricity, propane, fuel oil, natural gas, and even wood, corn cobs or sunflower hulls.