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Ross: Is an iPhone really helpful in an emergency?


Did you know that an iPhone can’t pick up radio stations (like KIRO Radio) over the air? I point that out because Apple recently filed a report with a climate change group about its plans to respond to a climate disaster.

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And Apple’s response (which earned an “A”) said this about the role of mobile devices in a disaster: “Mobile devices can serve as the backbone communication network in emergency situations. They can serve as a flashlight or a siren; they can provide first aid instructions; they can act as a radio…”

And that’s where I stopped.

The word “radio” can mean several things, but in a disaster the most important radio to have is a radio that can pick up broadcast signal.

And while some mobile devices do have a radio, the iPhone does not. And Apple, as far as I can tell, has no plans to include one – despite being pestered by a lot of people like me, who have noticed that when the trees and the buildings come down, so do the cell phone networks. They get overloaded.

There is only one form of mass communication that can handle an infinite number of listeners when all else fails, and that’s over-the-air radio. It’s real-time, unbuffered, and free.

And it is deceptive to say your gizmo is useful in an emergency when it can’t pick up the only public signal which – during that emergency – will still be there. Just like it is when things are normal.

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