In the iPhone of the hurricane

"In the iPhone of the hurricane" written by iPhone Atlas staffer David W. Martin, the author documents his experiences with the Apple iPhone and various applications that helped him survive the passing of hurricane Ike through his Southeast Texas communit

The following article, written by iPhone Atlas staffer David W. Martin, documents his experiences with the Apple iPhone and various applications that helped him survive the passing of hurricane Ike through his Southeast Texas community.

Hurricane Ike: The stats

Ike made U.S. landfall at Galveston, Texas, on September 13, at 2:10 a.m. CDT (07:10 UTC), as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 110 mph (177 km/h) and a central pressure of 952 mbar (28.11 inHg). The 2:00 a.m. NHC advisory cited tropical storm and hurricane force winds extending 275 miles (445 km) and 120 miles (190 km), respectively, from the center.

Hurricane Ike: Makes life difficult in Southeast Texas

The winds from Ike, however, were noticed way before the storm made landfall since power was lost several hours before the storm struck the coastline and flooding had already started well before that. The result was the loss of the TV, which is, of course, the best form of communication to have. All of us, after all, like to see it coming, don't we? Weather radar, tornado warnings, bands of rain. In any event, with the loss of power we were also left without landline phone services. I encourage everyone to get and keep a phone handy that does not require electricity for use--the house I took shelter in did not have one. I left mine at home and won't the next time around. However we did have a battery-operated AM/FM radio to listen to local news bulletins. We also had our cell phones that we made sure were fully charged and kept charged for as long as possible.

I, of course, had my iPhone 3G with me and I had updated it to iPhone OS 2.1 prior to the storm coming. It was fully charged and would prove to be very useful throughout the long night ahead of us. I took some time to look at iPhone OS 2.1 to keep my mind off of things and to work up some topics to write about for iPhone Atlas. The distraction worked fine for a little while until the storm came.

The storm arrived and we were plunged into darkness relying on battery-operated devices, iPods, laptops, cell phones, lanterns, candles, and flashlights. We'd gone to bed early so that we could all stay up and keep watch when the storm came. Some people might laugh about that, but the problem with these storms is that they have a tremendous amount of wind, rain, and most of all, tornados. If we had to leave in a hurry to seek shelter elsewhere, we'd have to act fast. So we needed to be wide awake. No worries there; Ike's fury to care of that part.

When Ike was in full force around us and with the power out, I sought a means of contacting the outside world and discovered that my iPhone was working and able to make a data connection to AT&T's network. I, of course, turned off the features on the phone that I did not require such as 3G and Push, so I could get the most out of my batteries in the iPhone. Much to my surprise the phone maintained a connection throughout the whole ordeal. Besides having the AM/FM radio, I had a very useful tool for keeping informed about what was going on around me during the storm.

In the eye of the storm

One thing to note at this point was that since the storm landed in Galveston we not only got hit by it once, but twice. The reason is simple; remember that hurricanes are circular so we got the first part of the circle followed by the dead calm of the eye of the storm--where we took time to assess damage, and then the second part came through, which seemed worse than the first part. It was really amazing to go from fierce to calm, and back to fierce again. Wow. However, it was finally over hours later.

How the iPhone 3G helped

So, now let me give you a rundown of how the iPhone 3G turned out to be an invaluable tool. Sure, most of us complain about it for this and that, but it really saved the day this time around. It actually worked as I expected it to. The bonus was the surprise, at least for me, that AT&T's network was intact during the storm.

The biggest and most helpful apps used during the duration of the storm were: Palringo, SMS, MySpace, Twitterific, and Weatherbug. Click one of the preceding links to read about an app we've covered before. SMS is the standard SMS Texting App that Apple provides for the iPhone. It was used to communicate with family and friends throughout the area and far away.

Weatherbug

Weatherbug (iTunes Link) is not the only weather app in the iTunes App Store these days; there are in fact 26 apps in the weather category in the store. It's free, so there is no problem with trying it and it was originally released in July. If you don't like it, you can get rid of it and you just might want to after you read this.

The app worked fine during the hurricane, and it was the only weather App that I had at the time. Using Weatherbug, we were able to not only receive weather alerts, but we were also able to track the hurricane as it made landfall. Subsequently, we were able to track the rain bands that these storms produce. All of this helped us to determine how much longer we needed to worry about ourselves and our homes. We also could tell that we would be within the eye of the storm based on what the radar screen displayed in the app. We attempted to use the camera feature of the Ap, where you can view weather Webcams from the locale you selected, but the storm had pretty much knocked those out of commission. This is very telling in regards to infrastructure; we are not very good at reinforcing those things like we should.

This app held out during the storm, but I don't recommend it for everyday use, especially if you travel between different cities. Why? Well, because the Radar portion of the app would never update when we changed locales. That was true even when we used our finger to flick through the locales that we set up. Regardless, the radar just would not update for the locale selected. You can see this in the associated picture included in the review. At the top you see Cupertino, CA, but the map displays the Texas Gulf Coast.

This app is so limited and has too many bugs to list here. If you are serious about tracking the weather, you should consider using the one Apple supplies with the iPhone or MyWeather, which I'll talk more about below.

Reflections after the storm

After going through the ordeal of the hurricane, I again looked at the App Store and with the help of Ben Wilson, my editor, I discovered some other apps in the iTunes store that I will have ready for the next emergency, whether it is a storm or something else. They are: MyWeather, 1st Responder, and WunderRadio. I was also working on a review of the zBoost YX510 a Wi-Ex cell phone repeater prior to the hurricane, which helped as I'll explain shortly after the storm had passed.

MyWeather

MyWeather (iTunes Link) says it all in two words smashed together. It's great and it's all about "My" weather. The app is expensive at $14.99, but in the weather category, there is another app selling for close to $70 so it's not the most expensive. However for regular Joes, MyWeather is perfect and nothing comes close to matching it in the App Store. At press time, the app is on sale for $9.99 for a limited time.

I selected this to replace Weatherbug, since the radar feature on it was not only a lot better, but it actually worked and I was not limited to three locations. It's even more amazing when you rotate the iPhone horizontally to view the radar. Believe me, you and your friends will be saying, "Wow!" You can even zoom down to street-level view. The overall interface for this app is just beautiful.

Needless to say, I'm well armed for the next storm. You can read more about MyWeather at the vendor's Web site MyWeather, LLC.

1st Responder

1st Responder(iTunes Link) was discovered by my editor, Ben Wilson, and it's also a useful addition to my mobile iPhone 3G emergency kit. It's for sale for a low price of $2.99 in the iTunes App store.

This app provides you with valuable tools and resources all in the palm of your hand. It also combines a few things you might have seen in other apps tied into one place. One of these is that it contains lighting and emergency strobe lighting features, and it also has one-touch dialing for 911 services, one emergency contact, and one personal contact.

The app gives you a place to enter personal medical information such as Medical Alerts and Medications. Emergency contact information, primary physician, blood type, existing conditions, allergies, medications, health history, insurance information, personal address, and information and notes. There is no security on this information that we could determine, so keep this in mind since in the wrong hands it could be used against you. However, if it were secure it would defeat the purpose for it in the first place. Just consider using this feature with some good common sense applied. There is no guarantee, however, that anyone would even find this information since it would have to be located by launching the app first. It's not as if it takes over the locking screen after you've dialed 911 for example. So, this might be of limited use.

Finally the app covers a number of first aid topics with explicit instructions and pictures. Basic first aid is covered, and it also has reference material for some common road side repair topics (flat tires) and survival topics (animal bites).

So, as a reference tool, this app will come in handy, but as a tool for emergency responders to use when you are unconscious, it's of doubtful use unless the paramedic gets curious about the world's favorite cell phone. Regardless 1st Responder is a nice app to have around in an emergency.

WunderRadio

As I mentioned before, I had a standard AM/FM radio operating on AA batteries to get the news and weather, but what about the iPhone? It has a number of streaming radio options from the opening day of the App Store, but not until now did one specifically target the streaming of NOAA Weather.

WunderRadio, from the weather experts at Weather Underground, is an Internet radio streaming application that sells for $5.99 (iTunes Link) at the App Store.

So, I purchased this app and added it to my mobile iPhone 3G emergency kit so I could could get these NOAA bulletins, but even better than that, the app streams a whole lot more via its ties to RadioTime.com, which allows it to provide thousands of radio streams from around the world. You can access local stations fairly quickly because the app uses the iPhone 3G's location/GPS services to determine which stations are local to your current position. Very nice.

But wait, there's more! No emergency kit would be complete without live police, fire, and EMS scanning, which the app provides via its ties to ScanAmerica.us.

This app is a steal at $5.99. It's a keeper and it's on my iPhone 3G.

Wi-Ex ZBoost YX510-PCS-CEL

The Wi-Ex zBoost YX510-PCS-CEL cell phone signal extender actually improves your cell phone's reception of cellular radio signals. This device proved to be very handy after Hurricane Ike had passed and there was some obvious damage to cellular infrastructure due to flooding and loss of power due to the water, wind, or both.

The YX510 successfully pulled in cellular signals from other towers and helped keep us connected via iPhone when others were experiencing signal reception problems. I will be covering this device in detail in a later review, but my initial testing was very promising considering the conditions I was testing the device in.

Calm weather

Southeast Texas is enjoying calm weather again and now you know the story about my experiences during the storm and the fact that the iPhone 3G made a good addition to my hurricane emergency kit.

I was one of the lucky ones since we sustained minor damage to our shelter. We came through better than most people. My own home was unscathed this time around. I was truly blessed, however more than 26 of my friends are homeless, and hundreds if not thousands are homeless. If you feel the need to assist your neighbors in Texas, then you should consider volunteering time or making donations to the Red Cross for hurricane relief efforts.

 

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