The Department of Health and Human Services has chosen three Facebook apps designed to help people prepare for emergencies and get support from friends and family in an emergency as winners of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge.

ASPR’s Facebook Lifeline Application Challenge called on software application developers to design new Facebook applications that could enhance individual and community resilience by establishing social connections in advance of an emergency.

The winning app was created by recent Brown University graduates Evan Donahue and Erik Stayton who partnered as Team ALP to develop their app, named Lifeline. Second place was awarded to the Las Vegas-based team of David Vinson, Erick Rodriguez, Gregg Orr, and Garth Winckler and their app, named JAMAJIC 360. Third place went to TrueTeamEffort, a group of 11 University of Illinois students led by Alex Kirlik, and their app AreYouOk?.

The one unifying characteristic of the apps is each asks users to identify and select three lifelines – Facebook friends the person can count on and who agree to check on them in an emergency, supply them with shelter, food and other necessities, and provide the person’s social network with an update about their well-being.

Developers of the winning app took this base and built upon it a very compelling array of features which enables lifelines to get users to create disaster readiness plans, share the plans with their emergency contacts, and provide users with news.

Additionally, the Lifeline app allows Facebook friends to collaborate on tracking the user’s status in a disaster-affected area so these friends can easily find the user’s lifelines and contact them to report if the user is safe or suspected to be missing. Users can also print cards with a snapshot of their preparedness plan to carry in their wallets. As if this weren’t enough, ALP’s app also includes a news feed and links to credible information sources which make the app useful for large-scale disasters and individual emergencies, such as car accidents and personal medical emergencies.

“We’re really excited about the potential of the lifeline app to help people not only to reach out to friends and family for the kinds of assistance they may need in an emergency, but also to help improve their personal health and preparedness,” said Nicole Lurie, M.D, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response and a rear admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. “Having people you can depend on for help is especially important during a disaster, so we want to encourage everyone to identify those people in advance. Since so many people use Facebook to connect with one another, it seemed like a natural way to help people to identify their lifelines.”

Dr. Lurie also noted another possible benefit to the Facebook lifeline apps.

“People who have friends or relatives they can rely on for help are healthier and live longer than those who don’t, which means establishing these social connections can enhance individual and community resilience,” she said.