What The Tech? How to use the 'Emergency SOS' feature on Apple products
One of my biggest worries as a dad and husband is thinking of my daughter and my wife walking through a mall parking lot at night. By themselves. We've all heard reports of kidnappings, armed robberies and carjackings taking place during the busy holiday season when shoppers have their hands full headed to the car.
Imagine this: you're on your way through the parking lot from the mall after a long day of shopping; you suddenly feel the presence of someone following you. Your concern is great enough that you want to call 911. In order to make that call, you must take out your cellphone, unlock the screen, find the phone app and dial the numbers. There's good news in a situation like that one, Apple has a feature in its iPhones and Apple Watch where you can call 9-1-1 without touching your phone's screen. First offered in iOS 11, the technique has changed depending on the phone you use.
For iPhones 8, X and 11 you need to press the on/off button and either volume up or down and hold it. It will open the phone's Emergency SOS screen which gives you the option to slide to call dispatchers. If you continue holding down the buttons, it will sound an alarm and place the call in 5 seconds.
On iPhones 7 and older, you only need to press the on/off button, the one on the right side of the phone, 5 times quickly. The action will sound an alarm and begin to dial the nearest 911 call center based on your phone's GPS locator. The feature works even if you have location settings turned off.
It's called "Emergency SOS" and you'll find settings for it on the main screen of the settings app. Apple has more information on the tool here.
Once the call to 911 goes out the phone will send a text message to anyone on your emergency contact list, which states you've called for help and will show your exact location. It also will send those emergency contacts follow-up text messages if your location changes. If the button is pressed 5 times accidentally, there are a few seconds before the call goes out.
This is a great tool in emergencies as you can call for help even with the phone in your pocket.
On an Apple Watch, it is just as easy. Press and hold down the side button below the crown. It will show the SOS screen and begin a 5-second countdown before the call is placed. An alarm will sound and then the watch will call 9-1-1. If your watch does not have cellular, your phone needs to be close by.
In case you haven't done it already, this is a good time to set up your emergency contact list and your medical ID. This can be set using the iPhone's Health app and by going to 'settings', 'emergency SOS' and follow the directions to the Health app.
Android devices have similar features but it depends on the manufacturer of the phone. If you have a passcode on your phone (and if not, why?) by sliding up on the locked screen you will see an emergency contact tab. Press it to call 9-1-1.
It is a feature I hope you never need but for safety's sake, it's nice to know it's there. It's a good tip to share with your friends and family.
Since the feature was released in iOS 11, there have been many reports of people accidentally launching the 9-1-1 call on their phone or watch. Police say if you do accidentally trigger the SOS emergency call, don't hang up. A dispatcher will want to talk to you to see what's happening. If you hang up after the call is placed, the dispatcher will have to call you back, taking up valuable time when they could be needing to handle an emergency.