Imagine, if you will, you’ve gone to a play. While you’re at this play, your phone starts rebooting constantly, making noise every time it does. Pressing and holding the power button doesn’t turn it off – it just restarts it. Your ROM is fried.

You walk out of the play to deal with the phone, leaving your pregnant wife in her seat watching the play, wondering why you left. You enter the lobby with a phone seized in a death loop.

You manage to get the phone into recovery after more than five minutes finagling with it, and start restoring the last known good backup. Right as you initiate the restore, alarms start sounding, lights begin flashing, the doors open up, and smoke comes pouring out. Over the loudspeakers, there’s some announcement that sounds like it’s saying to go outside, and handcuffed people will be taken care of after the evacuation.

People are evacuating from a large theater out the front, right and left, rear and overhead emergency exits. You have no phone, no data, no ROM, and no idea where your loved one is. You also have no way to get the phone back up and running, even to make an emergency call – not that dialing 911 in this situation would have accomplished anything with that many people there.

You spend the next few minutes waiting for the phone to restore, rebuild the cache, and spend the time wandering around looking for your left-behind spouse.

That’s what happened to me last Friday, and it’s the thing I’ve worried about with custom ROMs (and even stock) for years now. When there’s an emergency and your ROM is broken, you’re left with a massive restore or install before you can use the phone as a phone again.

It seems that with all the development hours that people have put into these things, the one thing they have missed is possibly the least complex to implement – an emergency backup phone ROM – a ROM that could be executed at boot via a boot-switcher, or flashed/executed via recovery, that only makes phone calls.

A phone-only ROM wouldn’t need to check through 300+ APKs to optimize them or create the dalvik cache, nor does it need to verify and load much more than the phone, GPS (for e911), and touchscreen drivers. An emergency phone-only ROM doesn’t have to have a team’s logo, intro music, and a theme. It just needs a dialer.

I’ve seen custom ROMs and stock non-rooted phones crash and be in the same situation too many times now, and Friday I realized that in spite of how amazing these things are, there’s really not been a push to make the phones more emergency-capable.

For now, I’m going to install an AOSP ROM, no GAPPS, remove as much as is possible, back it up, and name it “emergency” in case this ever happens again. But I’d implore developers to take a look at creating and including an emergency phone boot option for when something blows up a ROM.

This time, the emergency was caused by a smoke machine’s output getting a bit too thick, and as far as the recorded warning, I have no idea on that particular bit of oddness. By the time the ROM had restored, booted, and initialized everything, I had a few missed text messages, and luckily my wife had not been burned to a crisp or trampled.

But my contention is that, in all cases, a phone’s main responsibility is to be able to make calls, and when something goes wrong, there doesn’t seem to be anyone working on making sure you’re still 911/emergency call capable. So that’s what I’d like to see. It would have been nice to be able to call and say “yup, phone’s being stupid, you’re not dead right?”