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Featured: Android Headlines Friday App Spotlight – OnGuard

July 20, 2012 - Written By Randy Arrowood

It’s been a pretty wild weather year where I live. We live on top of one of the higher hills in our area, and the house looks out over a wide valley area, facing southwest. Southwest just so happens to be the severe weather superhighway around here, and there is nothing between us and the storm when they blow in.

Twice this year, we’ve looked out over the valley and watched funnel clouds blow by us only 5 or so miles to the south, and one of those funnel clouds touched down. It cut a path of destruction spanning over 5 counties in 2 states, killing more than a dozen people.

We didn’t have a tornado this week, but more severe storms caused power outages over two days and left damage all over our area. The weather here can be very severe, and

I’ve got a very nice weather radio that I keep in my bedroom. It’s loud, has a battery backup and works every single time there’s an alert. It is great peace of mind now that I have a baby sleeping right across the hall from me. I’m not always in my bedroom though, and I can’t hear the damn radio in the basement of my house, or out in the yard with my dog.

I have wanted an app that would make my Android phone (and now my tablets) act like a weather radio and alert me when there is severe weather in my area, but a well done app that both looked good and functioned well was hard to come by. Finally, after trying a number of weather alert apps, I’ve found OnGuard. I had a goal of trying to limit the Friday App Spotlight to apps that at least offered a free version, but OnGuard doesn’t have an ad supported option, and it’s really the best at what it does for me.

What OnGuard does is it monitors the United States National Weather Service updates for your area, and alerts you in the manner that you choose. Like so many apps you can choose an audio alert, vibrate and notification bar, or any combination of alert types. Where OnGuard really shines for me is in the ability to set different alerts based on the severity of the weather update. I have an audio alarm with vibrate for all weather warnings, and I’m using the NWS tone that my radio sends as a ringtone. For watches, the ringtone is a default ringtone only, and for alerts I get a notification bar icon only.

Update frequency can be set as well, and the choices here could be better. You’ll have the option of a 5, 15 or 60 minute update interval, and that’s about it. I’d like to see a one minute update interval, but given the amount of time that we normally have before a storm blows through I can live with 5 minutes. I initially had the update interval set at 15 minutes, but changing to 5 minutes has had no noticeable impact on my Nexus battery life.

The one thing that I am doing to save on a bit of battery life is that I am using static location for my weather alerts instead of dynamic alerts. I can add additional locations to the app if need be, or even enable location based alerts if I’m traveling, but the static alerts are for my entire county and that’s good enough for me on a day-to-day basis.

The one added feature of OnGuard that I like is the ability to set a persistent alert for the different weather event types. I have all warnings for my area set as persistent alarms, meaning that the NWS alert ringtone plays in a loop until I pick the phone up and silence it. There’s very little chance that I’m going to miss one of these.

There are two other features of OnGuard that certainly should be mentioned, and first up is the FEMA Tips feature. For any type of alert that the app sends, you’ll have a menu option to pull up FEMA Tips for dealing with or surviving whatever weather event is happening. A lot of this is common sense type stuff, but I know more than a few people that could really benefit from a dose of common sense.

The other feature that is included is the American Red Cross Safe and Sound system. If you’re ever caught in a natural disaster, the Red Cross Safe and Sound system is an online database where survivors can go and list themselves as safe, and family members can go to search for their loved ones. Using OnGuard, you can both register to list yourself as safe, and search for people that you know, and it’s a surprisingly complete listing of people. The Red Cross runs toward a disaster, and when they get there they try to convince every survivor to register and list themselves as safe.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to list my family in the Safe and Sound database, but back to the tornado earlier this year, I’ve had to use it to look up friends and loved ones. It might seem like a trivial feature to anyone that doesn’t live under the constant threat of severe weather, but it’s worth its weight in gold in an emergency.

OnGuard is $1.99 in the Google Play Store, and is a USA only app and service. It is running just fine on my Galaxy Nexus and Acer A100 tablet, both on ICS.