“There's an app for that,” is Apple's slogan for the iPhone and its application store. Indeed, there seems to be an app for everything — from a simulated whoopee cushion to a high-quality navigation system. Now apps are popping up that help consumers and first responders in emergency situations.

Last week, Clearwave Mobile introduced the ICEbeacon app, which is designed to let first responders use the patient’s iPhone to quickly and easily send real-time text alerts to pre-designated contacts, and to access critical information about the patient, such as allergies, blood type and known medical conditions.

Chris Baker, a captain with the Roseville (Calif.) Fire Department, said any service that can give EMS providers critical information at the scene when the patient is unable to do so is a valuable tool. However, he also said that EMS providers typically don’t have the time at the scene to search patients’ cell phones for contact numbers and other vital information. There also may be privacy issues.

"There would need to be some training and policy guidance about looking for a sticker, or similar, to see if this information is available on the phone," Baker said.

That is exactly what Clearwave has done. Once consumers download the application, they can visit the ICEbeacon Web site to register the app and obtain the free sticker that they can apply to the exterior of the iPhone or its case. The sticker lets first responders know the device is so-enabled — and that they have the patient’s permission to use the app. Additionally, Clearwave has notified more than 100,000 EMS professionals at the federal, state and local levels, alerting them to the presence of the app, said a company spokeswoman. The company also is a non-emergency member of the U.S. First Responders Association.

But Baker brings up a good point. As smartphones with multiple apps on them become the norm (such devices are the fastest growing segment in the industry today) and companies push the envelope on new apps, it makes sense that emergency responders nationwide should be trained and given guidance on the developments in the space.

Apple reported in July that 1.5 billion apps were downloaded in the first year after the company launched its online store, which currently offers more than 65,000 apps. And more than 100,000 developers are working on creative apps for the device every day. Moreover, app stores for competing devices and platforms are flooding into the market.

There is no doubt that apps are changing the mentality of mobile consumers everywhere. In unfamiliar places, people use apps to find the nearest gas station. Some log their calories and workouts. iPhones are replacing calendars and, in some cases, computers. While gaming still accounts for the majority of downloads, the new wave of apps is changing the way users communicate, navigate their environment, do business and, yes, receive emergency services.

Here's just a sample of the emergency apps that already are out there:

  • iSOS! GPS Emergency Locator. In an emergency situation (after you've called the police), you can click on this app to report your position to police, medical services, family members and others, as well as e-mail personal, pre-configured information and a link to Google Maps with your GPS position.
  • Nationwide Insurance in April launched a free app that helps those involved in an accident contact local emergency services, document the accident and submit a claim.
  • iCodeRed uses built-in GPS technology to obtain the location of the user; once the location is pinpointed, it sends out the emergency e-mail with the details, such as date and time of the event and latitude and longitude of the location where the user initiated the application. The app then dials a predefined phone number.
There is no doubt that the creativity we are seeing in the mobile apps space can help first responders do their jobs better. They just need to know how to harness the technology. Maybe there is a good case for giving first responders iPhones to help them understand the developments in this space. It was the argument I used with my husband, although I ended up getting an iPod Touch, which I call my “poor man's” iPhone. It allows me to keep updated with new apps via Wi-Fi — without driving up the monthly cell phone bill. Just a thought.