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North Dakota State University

January 7, 2012 by staff 

North Dakota State UniversityNorth Dakota State University, When a powerful blizzard ripped through North Dakota last winter, hundreds of drivers were stranded as white-out conditions shuttered interstates spanning the state. Snow whipped up by wind marred the lines between pavement and grassy drop-offs, leaving some scared motorists unsure what to do.

Two local software developers figured they could help.
Bob Bertsch, an employee with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, and Jake Joraanstad, an NDSU computer engineering major, had just finished developing an app to help residents during floods when the blizzard hit in March, convincing them to shift their attention to winter disasters.

Winter Survival Kit was born. The free program, available for iPhones and Android smartphones, is both a primer to help motorists prepare for winter driving and a beacon when things go badly.

It can pinpoint a motorist’s location, call 911, notify friends and family, and monitor how long the gas will hold out. The app also gives potentially life-saving alerts when users tap a big red button on its simple home screen that reads, “I’m Stranded!” Among the advice: stay with your vehicle and keep the tailpipe clear of snow, since a backup can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

“It’s our sincere hope that no one ever has to use it,” said Bertsch, an NDSU Extension Service web technology specialist who led the team that developed the app. “But if one person does have to use it and it keeps them in their car or keeps them from succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning, then it is definitely worth the time and effort that was spent on the app.”

The app also helps drivers prepare for bad weather by inputting phone and policy numbers for insurance and roadside assistance, and designated emergency contacts. And it gives guidance on putting together a physical survival kit to keep in vehicles in case of emergencies.

“Any tools developed which arm people with information that will help keep them safe is of value,” North Dakota Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong said.

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