The 2017 hurricane season was deadly, affecting over 26 million Americans, killing thousands, and costing the U.S. economy over 200 billion dollars. This horror elicited elaborate responses from federal and state agencies, non-profit rescue groups, and large corporations. Among these corporations was Apple.
On its website, Apple details its supposedly expansive response. Apple boasts that it “generates more than $13 million” for recovery efforts, makes it easy for iOS users to donate to aid organizations such as the Red Cross, sends thousands of employee-volunteers to effected regions to hand out food and clothing, and provides safe spaces in its stores.
Apple employees sort emergency equipment for survivors of the earthquake in Mexico City. Apple’s actions suggest a deep care of those impacted by natural disasters. Source: Apple.
Apple’s actions suggest that the company deeply cares about helping victims in emergencies, yet the emergency capabilities of its products are lacking. Expanding the emergency capabilities of Apple’s products can and would have helped many in emergencies such as Hurricane Harvey and Irma.
The winds and rain accompanying hurricanes, like those present in Harvey and Irma, often destroy structures including cell towers, the structures connecting phones to the internet through mobile data. Thus, in the period immediately following the hurricane, when delivering aid as fast as possible is vital, phone connectivity is often not present.
Connectivity allows access to services such as the Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) apps. Through these apps, authorities and rescue workers can establish communications with victims. These quick communications—shelter locations, weather conditions, messages on what-to-do, locations of victims—are vital to effective rescues.
A visual guide to the features of FEMA’s mobile phone app. Source: FEMA.
But since phone connectivity is often not present, authorities often turn to other mediums of communication. Of these mediums, which include sending people door-to-door, flying messages above, radio messages are the least expensive and most effective: that is, if victims have access to the radio.
Authorities elsewhere have used radio for such purposes, such as informing refuges in Kenya and educating people in Somalia. In the Assam Floods of 2012, Indian authorities used radio to rescue victims. There is overwhelming evidence that radios can save lives in emergency situations.
Now, fewer Americans have battery-powered radios, and using car radios is impractical in emergencies. But there is an unlikely provider of radio access to Americans—the phone.
A chart from the Pew Research Center showing cellphone and smartphone ownership in the U.S. over time.
According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 95% of Americans have cellphones, and 77% have smartphones. All major phone makers in America insert FM radio chips into their phones. All major phone makers activated these FM radio chips after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urged phone makers to do so citing that it will help rescue efforts. Thus, most Americans have phones with FM radio chips.
However, Apple’s new phones—the iPhone 7, 8, and 10—lack radio chips. These life-saving chips only added five dollars to the price tag for each iPhone 6, the last model in which they were installed.
Since consumers buy phones priced in the hundreds, having each phone cost five dollars more, to ensure a radio chip, will not make a large difference. It’s time for Apple to add these five-dollar chips, even if it means pricing up their thousand-dollar iPhones.
It is time for the U.S. Government to demand all future phones have radio chips. Such a simple and cheap requirement could have a priceless impact on victims’ lives.Loading Likes...