Every time we have a disaster, I think of the cell phone app called Family Locator. I am in Florida at the moment, and news about this week’s Michael hurricane certainly reminded me of the need to find and even track the whereabouts of family members. This app answers an age-old question: “Where are you?”
The Family Locator app for iPhones, Android phones, and even BlackBerry phones lets you know where some or all of your family members are located, plus or minus a few feet. This can be critical information when they have been evacuated to a storm shelter of some sort in advance of a hurricane or forest fire or tornado, or if they are simply stuck in a blizzard. Setting up alerts in the app will also allow you to know when family members have made it safely to their next destination.
In order to function, both you and all family members you wish to locate must have the Family Locator app installed on everyone’s cell phones, and each phone must be turned on and communicating with cell towers or wi-fi hotspots.
Family Locator also includes the ability to quickly and easily stay in touch with everyone in your family network with quick communication. It will even receive alerts when family members reach pre-determined locations. Sure, you could make frequent individual cell phone calls to each family member to check on each person’s status; but Family Locator simplifies the process and then (optionally) automatically shares the results with all the other family members. You can talk to family members while knowing where they are. Have an emergency? There’s a button for that, too.
You don’t need an impending disaster to make use of Family Locator. If a child is carrying a cell phone with Family Locator installed, the app can also can keep track of that child’s location to make sure the child is still in the neighborhood, at school, or wherever he or she is supposed to be.
Finally, if you or a family member ever misplaces a cell phone that has Family Locator installed on it, any other family member’s cell phone can be used to locate the exact location of the “wandering” cell phone.
Not bad for a free app!
To be sure, the use of Family Locator isn’t limited to blood relatives. I could see this being used by many groups of adults when hunting, fishing, at the ball game, or in any other place where some people need to locate other people in the group. Everything in the app is permission-based. No one will see anything they don’t need to. When you create a Circle (the app’s name for a group of individuals), you get to decide who is invited and who isn’t.
Nobody can see anyone else’s location unless the person who created the Circle gave them permission to view such information. Also, you can turn permission to see your location off and on whenever you want. (Don’t tell your children about that feature!)
Family Locator is security-conscious. The app uses GPS technology, and your maps and chat channels are built with top-notch, bank-level security. Your locations and conversations will always be private, available only to people you invite.
Family Locator is an excellent example of 21st century solutions for age-old problems.
In fact, there are three versions of Family Locator. The free version has been described above.
In addition, a Plus version adds extra functionality:
Set up as many places as you like, and receive automatic alerts when your Circle members arrive and leave from the places they frequent most. There is no need to manually query the app over and over, “Is he there yet?”
The free version shows where Circle members are NOW. The Plus version also shows 30 days of location history. That can be useful when talking to a teen-aged driver about where he or she went last night!
Crime Reports – Click dots in the app to view details of recent theft, burglary, vandalism, and registered sex offenders in your neighborhood.
Priority same-day email support
Family Locator Plus version costs $2.00 a month or $24.99 a year if you pay in advance. You can start with the free version and then, if you later decide toupgrade, you can sign up for the extra features at any time in the future. Once you subscribe, the added features will appear in your app within seconds.
Finally, a Driver Protect version adds crash detection and emergency response, roadside assistance, and weekly driver reports for each driver in the family. It also includes all the features of the Family Locator Plus version. You can learn more about the Family Locator Driver Protect version at https://www.life360.com/driverprotect.
Nothing is ever perfect, and this app is no exception. Obviously, Family Locator relies on cell phone towers or wi-fi hotspots for communications. During a widespread emergency, such as a hurricane, the cell towers may be offline. (Where I live, cell towers are the one means of communication that have proven most reliable when normal, wired telephones are inoperative due to power outages and/or downed telephone lines. However, I believe history has been different in some other parts of the world.)
If cell towers are inoperative, Family Locator will only work on wi-fi hotspots. Those short-range devices probably will be useless during a power outage.
In order to locate a specific family member, that person must have a cell phone with him or her and the phone must be turned on, along with the Family Locator. I suspect anyone aged 7-years-old or older can find a way to turn off the app or simply turn off the phone. (My experience has shown that teenagers will NEVER turn off their phones!)
During extended power outages, a cell phone’s battery may go flat. (The Family Locator app will notify the user when the battery is low.) Low batteries are easy to prevent with any of today’s low-cost external batteries that connect to the cell phone’s USB connector. However, many people do not carry such a battery with them. For automobiles, a low-cost power cord that plugs into the automobile’s power socket that is on or near the dashboard will power a cell phone for weeks, even if the auto is stuck in a snowbank or if the cell phone’s internal battery is dead. You DO keep such a power cord in your automobile, right?
The Family Locator app is not a perfect solution for all situations. However, it greatly REDUCES the problems of locating and communicating with family members in times of need.
The Family Locator app is installed on my cell phone. I don’t use it often; but, when I do need it, I am glad it is there and running.
The Family Locator app may be found in the Apple iPhone app store, the Google Play Store (for Android devices), and it should be available in the BlackBerry app store (which is really on the Amazon Appstore) although I couldn’t find it. If you are using a Blackberry, start at https://us.blackberry.com/apps and, if you find it, please let me know where it is so that I may update this article.
More information about the Family Locator app may be found at https://www.life360.com.