What the Tech? Faster Ways to Use Your Smartphone in an Emergency

The search for a missing kindergarten teacher in Memphis, Tennessee, has many people wondering what they would or could do if they were in a dangerous situation and couldn’t call for help.

If you have a smartphone with you, there are features that allow someone to call 9-1-1 without dialing the numbers and send police and family members your exact location.

Not many people know about Emergency SOS or how to set it up and use it. It can be lifesaving in almost any scary situation.

On an iPhone quickly press the side power button 5 times, or simultaneously hold down the side button and a volume button. You don’t need to do anything else. When the timer hits 3, the phone sounds an alarm that might scare away someone threatening you. When the timer hits zero, the phone dials the nearest 9-1-1 call center.

It’ll also notify anyone in your emergency contacts that you’ve called for help and send them a map of your location. You’ll need to set that up beforehand. In settings select Emergency SOS, making sure the toggle “Call with 5 presses” is turned on.

You can also choose to turn off the alarm sound if you don’t want to alert people around you that you’re calling for help or that you have a smartphone with you.

If you haven’t done it yet, add emergency contacts to your list in the iPhone’s Health app. Enter their name and contact information which you probably already have stored on your phone.

When you use Emergency SOS, those emergency contacts will receive a message that you have called 9-1-1 and may need immediate help. They’ll also receive your location on a map which will be updated if you move from that location. When I tried it, the Apple Map displayed a friend’s location live, even showing which side of the road they were on and the direction they
were traveling.

All this is done discreetly if you turn off the setting that triggers the alarm before dialing 9-1-1. On an Android phone, you’ll find the settings under Safety and Emergency. If not, since there are different Android models, look for it under “Advanced Features”.

On Android devices press the power button 3 times quickly to contact 9-1-1 and message your emergency contacts. You can also choose to send photos and audio recordings when you activate the alert.

I’ve had mixed results trying this on a Google Pixel and a Samsung Galaxy device. You should set up your emergency contacts in safety settings.

You can also use emergency SOS on an Apple Watch by holding down the power button but you will need to swipe a slider at the bottom of the display screen to call 9-1-1.

Another option for safety is keeping an Apple AirTag with you which will show your location no matter where you go as long as there is another iPhone nearby.

Before testing this, remember after a few seconds it will dial a 9-1-1 operator automatically. So end the call before the countdown reaches zero. But tell everyone in your family about this. It could save their life.


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