Why Your iPhone Could Make Your Disaster Worse


Yellowstone Geysers


Many companies are promoting the use of smart phones as tools to be used when disaster strikes. The idea is that you can store parts of your plan on the phone or use the browser to access your plan in the cloud. You can even access your notification system from your phone and get your people into action while you’re still stuck in traffic.

I want my iTunes!

Credit- Hirotomo

Unfortunately, I discovered that while my trusted iPhone has powers much greater than its diminutive stature would suggest, it has an Achilles Heel called iTunes. You see, my family was on vacation in the wilderness called Yellowstone National Park this past week. We only  had access to cellular when we were at selected tourist areas, and only had access to Wi-Fi in the hotel. The evening that we arrived, my wife’s iPhone 4 showed the screen to the right. Yes, something went seriously wrong and it wanted its mommie. Unfortunately, I was carrying two iPads and two iPhones, but no laptop. When we got to our hotel, I used my iPad to search for solutions and the only answer was that when an iPhone wants to be connected to iTunes, it wants to be connected to iTunes and there is no workaround. I had a USB cable and asked just about everyone I saw in the park if I could use their computer to resurrect my phone, but no one was willing – and I can’t say that I blame them. Would you let a stranger connect their phone to your computer? I used my iPhone to make an appointment at the closest Genius bar which was in Salt Lake City and my wife and I used the handheld ham radios that I had in our suitcase as backups (yes, once a DR planner, always a DR planner).

So four days later, we arrived back in Salt Lake City and headed to the Apple Store where Summer helped me out. Since this was the third time in six months that this iPhone needed to be connected to iTunes before it would work, she suggested that I should have the phone replaced for $149, even though it was only 2 months out of AppleCare. I figured that $149 was a pretty good deal so I did the deed, she swapped out my  phone and I was on my way.

But this post is about why your iPhone could make your disaster worse, so let me wrap it by asking you how many times your Motorola, Nokia, Pantech or other basic cellular phone needed to be connected to a computer before you could use it to make phone calls. I thought so. So now I am going to buy a basic cellphone and carry it with me at all times so that if my iPhone pulls this stunt again, at least I’ll have a phone that I can use to make calls – assuming that the cellular infrastructure is available and my battery is charged.

Do you have any horror stories about your phone not being able to work like a phone when you needed it most?

4 Comments to “Why Your iPhone Could Make Your Disaster Worse”

  • Ian says:

    Modern iPhones do not require to be connected to iTunes in order to activate. They simply need an internet connection of some sort (including a phone connection). You just need iOS 5 or above. That includes iPhone 4, 4S and 5.

  • ronlap says:

    Thank you for your comment. My wife’s iPhone 4 was running iOS 6 at the time that it bricked.

  • someone says:

    “Many companies are promoting the use of smart phones as tools to be used when disaster strikes.”

    I’m not sure what type of “disaster” you are planning for, but if it relies this heavily on a single point of failure, I would not call that much of a disaster plan at all. Even with your ‘basic cell phone’ solution doesn’t seem to be a good backup plan, either as you are still at the mercy of the same/similar cellular network, which is a known weak point in any true disaster. Not to mention power issues (battery and recharging), being dropped and getting wet.

    I’m glad you thought about taking ham radios, but why didn’t you think a laptop would be handy to have? Or better yet – a hard copy of the plan? Or maybe contacting one of your backup people (you do have backup people, don’t you?) and advising them of the phone outage you have, you forgot your laptop, and that they would be the point person until you could resolve the situation?

    Next time you are in Yellowstone and forget your laptop, stop by MountTunes Music, Expresso and Internet Cafe or The Hard Drive Cafe and ask one of them to use one of their computers. I’m sure they would be happy to help and it would save you a long drive back to Salt Lake City.

  • ronlap says:

    “I’m glad you thought about taking ham radios, but why didn’t you think a laptop would be handy to have?”

    I agree with you on your points about having multiple backups. While the bricked iPhone was real, the disaster scenario was hypothetical. I’m actually a product manager who has no reason to carry a laptop on vacation, but if I was still a disaster planner I would have turned everything over to one or more persons who were not on vacation. But the root problem still persists; my iPhone bricked and I needed a laptop with an Internet connection to unbrick it – which escapes all logic to me.

    I stopped by two Internet Cafes in town but neither they nor the hotel I was staying in would let me install iTunes on their PCs.

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