Smartphones, tablets can be a port in the storm

One item that millions will have with them in almost any situation is their smartphone. As Hurricane Irene approaches, that’s important because a smartphone or tablet computer can come in handy during the storm ? if you’ve made some advance preparations.

There are a host of apps for tracking weather, getting ready for the hurricane and contacting insurance companies to report damages.

But first make sure your devices are fully charged, and you have extra batteries or a car charger on hand in case power is out for a few days. None of these ideas will help if your tech is out of juice when you need it most.

? Track the storm.

Search for “hurricane tracker” apps to watch Irene’s progress and get updates about the forecast. There’s also a free app available from The Weather Channel. and also provide news and information.

? Set up emergency alerts.

Sign up to receive text messages from local government agencies, local media and your insurance company or agent. A text message tree, where you pass on information to friends and family, may also prove helpful.

? Download your insurance company’s app.

Some insurance companies will accept initial claims from smartphones. Among them: Allstate, Geico, State Farm and USAA.

? Sign up for social media updates.

Social media has played an important role in several disasters this year. The American Red Cross and numerous government agencies are using Twitter and Facebook to provide updates about disaster preparation and recovery. The Red Cross also has two apps, one that provides shelter locations and another with first aid and CPR tips.