FEMA administrator warns of cellphone vulnerabilities during disasters

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate is touting the benefits of having cellphone carriers enable FM radio on smartphones. 

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) on Monday highlighted an interview in which he expresses the importance of the capability during natural disasters. 

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Fugate said broadcast radio is, at times, the only way to receive emergency information during a disaster, when other services are jammed with overuse. He pointed to the 2011 earthquake near Washington, D.C., and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. 

"A lot of our tendency to use streaming devices to be dependent upon broadband capabilities are vulnerable in a disaster," he said, adding that during natural disasters, a phone without service is no more useful than a "brick."

"He added: "So when you get things where you can start combining functions, like putting FM chips into cellphones, and you start getting radio … it moves us beyond just streaming."

The broadcast association has long pushed for the change, and Fugate has previously touted the benefits of broadcast radio during natural disasters.

"His comments send a strong message to wireless providers regarding the indispensable value of radio as a lifeline when disaster strikes," NAB chief executive Gordon Smith said in a statement. 

"We strongly urge all wireless carriers to voluntarily activate their customers' FM chips that are already installed in mobile devices to provide Americans with access to a lifesaving service."

The group said FM chips are already installed in most smartphones, which would allow the device to receive FM radio without data charges from carriers. Sprint is one company that has already enabled the capability.