Now that more than 77% of Americans have a smartphone, that device has become the standard by which Americans keep in touch with family, friends and co-workers. For many, smartphones are an essential tool that we use in our work as an employee or student.
Equally important, in emergencies a customer’s smartphone can summon help from police, firefighters, or medical professionals, and there are times when a smartphone can inform us of life-threatening weather plus where and when we should seek shelter.
There are a few specialized mobile public safety services such as 911, weather alerts and broadcast Amber Alerts. Most mobile phone makers have extended their public safety commitment by activating the FM radio that is imbedded in smartphones.
With an activated FM radio in their smartphone, consumers can monitor weather and public safety information that helps them make life-saving choices. The FM radio in smartphones draws far less power from the battery than does internet streaming. That makes FM radio from a smartphone the wise choice when conserving battery power is important – such as when the power network is down. And, it does not consume any wireless plan data or minutes. It’s free.
FM radio broadcast signals travel much farther than cellular or Wi-Fi signals, increasing the chances that broadcast news can reach into areas where cellular networks are disabled, such as by storms. That makes FM a better choice for disseminating safety information in a crisis.
It is unfortunate that there are plenty of opportunities for us to use FM radio through our smartphones. The spring and summer months of tornado season brings about 1,200 episodes of high wind and building damage to Americans in a great swath of the country’s midsection from Northern Texas to the Canadian border, and from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf Coast and Florida.
Although fewer in number, hurricanes bring more intense danger. The annual hurricane season affects all Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal areas and sometimes areas up to 100 miles inland. Islands are especially vulnerable, as we saw in the 2017 flooding near Houston and devastation of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The Atlantic hurricane season runs for 6 months from June to November. The Eastern Pacific hurricane season begins in May 15 and ends in November. From 2004 through 2017, there were 220 Atlantic and Caribbean storms that produced 104 hurricanes in which 9,360 people died from drowning and hurricanes’ destructive force.
In Puerto Rico during 2017, the electric grid and much of the exposed communications infrastructure was destroyed by wind and flooding, leaving many residents without electricity to operate conventional TVs or radios, and often without functioning mobile phone towers to carry cellphone traffic. Hurricanes are not limited to the east coast. US parts of the Eastern Pacific are also exposed to hurricanes.
Hurricane damage can persist for months, leaving victims without news of recovery efforts, upcoming storms, where to seek shelter, where and when food and drinking water is available. In cases of severe devastation, FM radio via smartphone can be the best, most power efficient way for victims to be accountable for their own safety.
While all smartphones have the FM radio circuitry needed to help Americans when they are in peril (see here, here, here, here, here, and here), sometimes a smartphone manufacturer has not activated the FM radio, but they all should.
Surely, all smartphone makers will enable these FM chips improve public safety.