Microsoft is making another foray into turning virtual connections into an ad-hoc disaster aid network. HelpBridge, launched today for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android, lets users create lists of emergency contacts and then set up a protocol for communicating with people during a disaster. A pair of buttons will either let you say that you need help or that you're all right; once you tap one, it'll give you the option to send a message to your list by email or SMS, or to post a message on Facebook. Another section, dubbed "Give Help," is meant for people outside the disaster area. It includes things like PayPal and text message donation links and lists of volunteer opportunities.
HelpBridge is based on Azure and a variety of partner services, including AidMatrix and the Mobile Giving Foundation. As such, it's a bit more expansive than similar systems like Facebook's Disaster Message Board, which launched in Japan some time ago. Unlike location- or event-specific disaster services, it's also meant to work in a variety of circumstances, increasing its chances of becoming a general go-to disaster app. As Microsoft notes, however, that leaves it open to everyday use that could "dilute the effectiveness of the app when you need it most." Hopefully, HelpBridge will enjoy greater longevity than similar Microsoft emergency system Vine, which closed after an abortive year-long beta in 2010.