As rescue efforts continue in and around Houston following Hurricane Harvey, one communications app is proving to be a lifesaver.
Zello is basically a walkie talkie in your pocket. Users push and hold a button to talk immediately with others on radio-style channels.
As rescuers and storm victims seek assistance during the aftermath of Harvey, Zello is among the go-to tech tools. Zello has seen 20 times as many new users in Houston on the app compared to the previous week.
"It’s centered on live voice," said Zello CEO Bill Moore. "Our voice is how we most naturally communicate. A few seconds of voice has so much information on emotion, education, gender, what part of the country are they from."
"Typically, a channel is going to have a handful of people on it," said Moore. "Sometimes they get quite large."
Zello started out as an app called Loudtalks in 2007. The company maintains the technology and formally launched as Zello four years later. As of February, Zello had 100 million registered users on iOS and Android.
This is not the first time Zello has seen usage spike during times of crisis. The Cajun Navy, a group of rescue volunteers begun after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, uses Zello regularly.
Moore says Zello has seen use increase during global uprisings, including ones in Egypt and the Ukraine, as well as protests in Venezuela. Zello was blocked during several of these events, most recently in Russia in April.
Moore says it's "satisfying" Zello — based in Austin — has been so helpful for rescue efforts.
"Many of us have friends and family in Houston," said Moore. "More broadly, technology like Zello allows people to solve things closer to the problem, where it’s so effective."
Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.