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In the iPhone of the Hurricane

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 2:10am 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 am NHC advisory cited tropical storm and hurricane force winds extending 275 miles (445 km) and 120 miles (190 km), respectively, from the center.

We noticed the winds from Ike, however, before the storm made landfall. 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, generally the best form of communication in a hurricane. All of us, after all, like to see it coming don’t we? Weather radar, tornado warnings, bands of rain, etc. 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 extaordinarily 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 do some work.

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 pernicous, 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.

When Ike was in full force, 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, Push, etc. so that 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. I knew I had very useful tool for keeping informed about what was going on around me during the storm.

In the Eye of the Storm

Because 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, etc. and then the second part came through which seemed worse than the first.

How the iPhone 3G Helped

The biggest and most helpful Apps used during the storm were: Palringo, SMS, MySpace, Twitterific, and Weatherbug.

Weatherbug

Weatherbug 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. But Weatherbug is free, and was the only weather application 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 App where you can view weather webcams from the locale you selected, but the storm had pretty much knocked those out.

This App held out during the storm, but I don’t recommend it for every day use especially if you travel between different cities, etc. 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 to many bugs to list here that if you are serious about tracking the weather you should consider using the one Apple supplies with the iPhone or MyWeather.

MyWeather

MyWeather is relatively expensive at $14.99. 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(3) locations. It’s even more amazing when you rotate the iPhone horizontally to view the radar.

1st Responder

1st Responder(iTunes Link) is 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.

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

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 that I could could get these NOAA bulletins, but even better than that the App streams a whole lot more via it’s 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.

No emergency kit would be complete with out live police, fire and EMS scanning which the App provides via it’s 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. 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 over 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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