50 Emergency Uses for a Phone Camera

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Here are 50 handy emergency uses for a phone camera. | via www.TheSurvivalMom.com
Here are 50 handy emergency uses for a phone camera. | via www.TheSurvivalMom.com

In an emergency you’ll need to provide and receive help, and after it’s over, you’ll have to return, repair, and rebuild. Central to this is communication and documentation. Our society loves red tape, especially after disasters. Below are 50 ways a phone camera can be used in an emergency to document, record, and relay important information.

Any camera could be used for some of these things, but the phone camera carries a distinct advantage. It can immediately transmit your pictures. If you don’t have a phonecam, go with what you have, or what you can afford. Disposable cameras and digital cameras are acceptable. However, the phonecam rules, so let’s look at ways yours can be used in an emergency.

These are excerpts from Disaster Prep 101.

1. Last minute child ID

Whenever the family might be separated, take last-minute pictures of all family members, especially the kids, and pets.

2. Send a map

To send or receive directions to or from a location when voice directions aren’t working, draw a map on paper, take a picture, and send.

3. Injury photos to the doctor

Suppose help isn’t available, and someone’s sick or injured. If there are visible signs or symptoms, relay pictures to medical personnel who can walk you through whatever treatment is possible where you are.

4. Damage documentation

In catastrophes, it’ll be days before insurance adjusters get there to file claims. Photo all damage in case some of it gets repaired or cleaned up before agents arrive.

5. Report suspicious activity

If you see suspicious activity in your neighborhood, upload pictures of suspects and the situation to the police immediately.

6. “Here’s the landmark”

Gathering the family is critical. If you don’t have a fixed meeting place, send pictures of where and what you’re near so others can find you. This also works well if you’re lost in the wilderness and need to relay pictures of landmarks.

7. “Meet us here”

If you have a fixed rendezvous point, send a pic you already have on file, so others will know where to meet. Take these photos while compiling your family emergency plan.

8. Photo shopping list

When stocking up in anticipation of an emergency, take a picture of your pantry as a quick shopping list.

9. Driving directions

If you’re trying to tell others where a certain location is, send a picture by picture set of directions. Create this file while assembling your family reaction plan.

10. “Meet this person”

If your family evacuates, and they know where to go, but haven’t met the family contact person, send them a picture of the person they’re to meet, or send that person pictures of the people heading their way.

11. Last minute property inventory

If you’re evacuating, snap quick shots of your property to include purchases not on your last home inventory, and the current condition of your property.

12. “Adventure” journal

Take pictures to record what you do, where you go, and people you meet during an evacuation, etc.

13. Situational severity

In a large-scale emergency, first responders will be overworked. They might not be available for a “minor situation.” However, the situation might be worse than they understand, and you might need serious help. Send a picture of how bad things are.

14. Quick text messaging

You might not have time to type a message, and the lines might not be open long enough for a conversation. Write a note on paper, take a picture, and send that.

15. Minor traffic mishap

In a minor fender-bender, with no injuries or disabled vehicles, most jurisdictions will tell you to “swap info and move along.” If that’s the case (always call 911 to make sure), photo the vehicular damage, people involved, witnesses at the scene (and their car tag numbers), and of others involved in the accident to show their injuries (or lack thereof).

16. Wallet backup

Take pictures of your wallet’s contents (or important documents) to record numbers, and show that cards are or were in your possession. Be careful with this info as it’s very sensitive and can be used for identity theft!

17. Inclement weather reporting

If you’re the first to see the funnel cloud, hail, or a river overflowing, send a picture to the weather service or authorities as rapid proof an emergency is developing.

18. First Responder intel

The more first responders know about a collapsed house, an auto accident, a fire in progress, or any other emergency, the more rapid and appropriate a reaction they can make.

19. Missing persons

Send picture of picture. In addition to last minute family photos, send a picture of a photograph in your purse or wallet of a missing family member.

20. Relay property damage to or from neighbors

After a disaster, whoever goes home first, either you or your neighbors, could photograph area damage and relay info to the other.

21. Help insurance adjusters find your property

After a devastating incident, street signs will be gone, house numbers won’t be visible, etc. Take current pictures of landmarks or unique damage near or at your property to make it easier to find you.

22. Copy bulletin boards

If you’re in an emergency shelter, and there’s an info bulletin board, you’ll need the info but might not be able to write it down. Take a picture!

23. Bus, subway, or city map

If you’re anywhere you’re not familiar with and there’s a posted map, take a picture of it for later reference if you get lost.

24. Document your route

When traveling to a new area, and you want to find your way back, take pictures along the way of landmarks at turns you make, forks in the road, etc.

25. Record medicines or food brands

To relay information about medications, or if you have special dietary needs and are sending information regarding certain brands to someone, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

26. Parking spot locations

Don’t trust your memory, trust a picture. Take a pic of where you left your vehicle either in a lot or in a parking deck.

27. Engine repairs

Should you break down and your vehicle shows outward signs of problems such as steam shooting from a hose, or liquids dripping from the engine, send a pic to a mechanic who may talk you through a quick fix.

28. Business or service function and hours

Copy posted business hours or listed service functions (and pricing) for later review and recall. This is also a good way to report price gouging.

29. Child custodian

If you can’t get to your kids at school or other function, relay a picture of the person who is coming to pick them up. Send this picture to the school or function, and to your child (if they have a phonecam).

30. Info on injured or hospitalized people

You might be in a position to send pictures to people looking for loved ones or vice-versa.

31. Hotel room number

Whenever you get a hotel room, take a picture to find your way back. Photo the room number on the door, and the name of the motel and adjacent buildings.

32. ID your evacuation gear

As with all belongings, take a picture to prove ownership. This might come in handy with theft in emergency shelters. It’s a rare occurrence, but be ready to prove things are yours.

33. Photo scavenger hunt

You’ll need something to entertain the kids. Give them a short list of things they should take a picture of. First one to take all the pictures wins!

34. Identify the close-up

Another idea is to take a really close up picture of something while the kids aren’t looking, and have them figure out what it is.

35. Document your whereabouts

Let’s say looting or rioting is occurring. You can help police by secretively taking pictures of the perpetrators (not really recommended for safety reasons), or take pictures as you’re leaving to document the fact you weren’t involved.

36. ID the rescuer

If a rescuer is picking up your child or pet, photo the rescuer (and the child or pet) and the vehicle they used. Photograph their name tag as well as registration numbers on helicopters, vehicle tag numbers, or names of boats.

37. Document your cleanup

It may be a while before your insurance adjuster can arrive. Take pictures of the damage as you found it, and steps you took during cleanup. Regarding insurance, NOTHING beats documentation!

38. Document expenditures

If you buy goods or supplies, rent equipment, or hire a service, in addition to receipts, photograph the goods acquired, equipment being used, services being performed, and the people involved.

39. Property pics for retrieval companies

Some scenarios will see you unable to return home. Some companies are trained and equipped to go into these areas to gather people’s belongings. Property photos will allow you to identify specific items you’d like retrieved.

40. Evacuee status

Authorities will want to know who is injured, dead, or missing, and who is okay and where they are. Taking pictures of those you meet along with way, or at your emergency shelter, will help ID the living and well. When possible, label each photo with the person’s name.

41. Language barriers

Ever try to find the restroom in a foreign country and you didn’t know the phrase? Imagine how guests in our country feel in emergency situations. Pictures make communication easier, whether you’re trying to understand their needs, or relay yours.

42. Transmit road conditions

Let’s say after a hurricane, you’re one of the first families returning home, and you’re taking back roads. Authorities (or others following) might not have checked every avenue of return. If damage needs to be reported, or there’s no damage (report that too), sending a picture can relay tons of information.

43. Relay traffic conditions

If family members are separated, or heading different directions, pass along traffic conditions or info from traffic warning signs.

44. Crime scene evidence

People have returned to a home undamaged by a disaster, but later looted. Since police might not be able to show up right away, take “crime scene” photos (for both Police and insurance).

45. Too much on the screen?

Should the TV flash pertinent information and you don’t have time to write, or there’s a lot of text on a computer and you can’t print it, take a picture of the screen for later review.

46. ID for doctors or pharmacies

Medical needs are a real probability during an emergency. Since you can’t get to your doctor, and they might phone in a prescription to a pharmacy that doesn’t know either of you, use your phone to verify your identity to your doctor, and your doctor can relay the picture to the pharmacy.

47. Emergency supply information

Suppose a developing emergency finds you low on goods and you send different people to different supply locations. If supplies are low, these folks can send a picture of the types or brands of items available so you can make educated purchase decisions.

48. “Last Minute List” items and shutdown

Though everyone should keep a “bugout kit” packed and ready, there will be items which cannot be packed in advance. In addition to a written list, create a photo file showing items you need to take (and their location) and steps to secure the house before leaving.

49. Evacuation atlas

Create a “travel atlas” of emergency assets available along evacuation routes. Include lodging, ATM locations, emergency rooms, etc. Travel the routes and take photos, or draw maps and shoot those.

50. Reaction plan for the reading disabled

If a family member suffers from any reading disability, using photos is a must. Create a photo file that will relay your entire emergency plan without using text.

Can you add anything else to this list?

Care to pin this? cell phone in hand isolated on the white

Copyright 2005, Paul Purcell. About the author: Paul Purcell is a security analyst and preparedness consultant with over twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He’s also the author of “Disaster Prep 101.” More information can be found at http://www.disasterprep101.com. Printed here with permission from the author.

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I'm the original Survival Mom, and have been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more for 9 years.

25 thoughts on “50 Emergency Uses for a Phone Camera”

  1. Awesome ideas. I guess I had better get one of those and learn how to use it. I never knew that you could do all those things.

    1. The trick is remembering all the different ways you can use the camera. I would suggest printing out the list and keeping a copy at home and in your vehicle. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  2. I liked this article, lots of good tips. However, I would have added alternative to not having a working camera phone, no power to recharge your phone, etc. In your bug out kit (if you can find one) an instant camera. I am a real newbie at this preparedness…any other ideas, I would love them.

    1. Julie, that's a great idea for a bug out kit/72 Hour Kit! I have a camera phone but a digital disposable camera would definitely be a great addition to our preps. Thanks for the idea!

      1. You can get a device that is a radio, flashlight, and solar and winding charger for your phone all at once. They are not at all expensive, either.

  3. My teacher linked this to our student portal. I am glad I read this and it is nice to know I have used this for some of the same things u have listed here! I will be using this is part of some of my assignments and in everyday life. Thanks for the tips. I have an Autistic son and this will help me out alot with him 2!
    Terra Rocks!

  4. 1Password has apps for Mac iPad and iPhone. It has a wallet for vital Dox and info that’s pretty secure. There’s a lot of programs that probably do it. But I keep my software keys in it, because I can only imagine booting up and all the programs no longer recognize me. That has happened without disaster probably worse after. So it stores sites, passwords, and sensitive documents ANd syncs securely with all ur devices. And searchable by keyword

  5. Your phone can see in the dark!! better than you can. It also can detect people using night vision goggles and or infra red lights for night vision equipment.
    Something you should check with your phone is the ability of the camera to “see” infra red light sources.
    You can check this by turning the camera mode on and point the remote for your tv or any other remote with the little LED on the front at the camera lense of your phone. If you see a red light eminating (sp) from the front of your remote from the camera screen, your camera can see in the infra red spectrum.
    There are apps for smart phones for “night vision”. While not as good as real night vision goggles it could definitely help in a black out situation. If you are evading or trying to find emergency crews having your camera on your phone turned on can help you find them. Using your flash on your camera can get the attention of rescuers in a night time situation. Using a remote control to signal between two parties using your phone camera to see the infra red signal allows you to signal without giving away your position to others.

  6. I have observed that in the world of today, video games are definitely the latest fad with kids of all ages. There are times when it may be extremely hard to drag your family away from the video games. If you want the very best of both worlds, there are numerous educational games for kids. Interesting post.

  7. Using your camera to document what your children are wearing on vacation is also great. I have 6 children and when we went to Disneyland last year I took a group photo each morning just in case we were ever separated. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to remember what each of them wore each day if I was panicked because we were separated. (It never happened but better to have it and not need it than the other way around.)

  8. Ya know – when they first came out I thought camera phones were the most idiotic thing anyone had come up with. But in later years I have used them quite a bit – including to document damage in an auto accident.

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  10. Great list. We always use the video function before going to the doctors if our son has a worrying cough or something like that. It’s always good to be able to show the doctor exactly what we are talking about rather than trying to explain it.

  11. What we did for our son when we adopted him in 1998 was to take photos of the family members, and the exteriors of where they lived. We then glued the photos back to back, than laminated them, hole punched the cards and put them all together on a zip tie and gave them to him to keep with him in case we ever got separated. ( He still has them today in 2014…he was 4 1/2 when we adopted him from Romania. )

  12. Another important use for a cell phone camera is to record all interactions with police.

    Sad to say, but police routinely assault people and then charge them with resisting arrest, plant evidence etc

  13. Penny Williams

    You can also take a picture or scan important documents and send them to you self so you have soft copies if the originals are lost or damaged.

  14. I take photos of each of our family members cars license tags. This shows the expiration of the tag (too many to remember), color of car, license number to give police in case of emergency.

  15. Some of these ideas are just brilliant! I never would have thought of even half of these uses for my phone camera. With all the unrest in the world, this is the type of information people need. Keep up the good work!

    Just wanted to let you know we love your website. I’m the Social Media Marketing Manager at Homesteader’s Supply and share your wonderful articles on our Facebook page at least a couple of times a week.

  16. I keep photos of our prescription labels and supplement labels on my phone. That way, when filling out forms in doctors office, there’s no question who prescribe what and in what dosage.

  17. While not strictly emergency usage…I use my camera feature on the phone when I travel to document where I parked our car in the airport lot. When I arrive at the destination I video a complete loop around the rental car to document any pre-existing dings/scratches/dents.
    And for everyday use I use it as a magnifying glass to read tiny print without searching for a pair of reading glasses. And when we go to the mall, I do the same parking lot pictures of the car and identifying signage just like at the airport.

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