In Case of Emergency

In Comments, MorningGlory asked about “ICE” numbers.

This was the subject of an e-mail that went around sometime ago. The gist of the whole thing was that anyone with a cell phone should add a number to their cell phone address book under the acronym “ICE” — In Case of Emergency — so that Emergency-type personnel looking through your cell phone after things have done gone all pear-shaped would have a good number to call.

MorningGlory is curious as to whether this e-mail is an urban myth, or if Emergency personnel do call the ICE numbers.

My answer is two-fold: Given the amount of people who received the ICE e-mail, it’s a pretty good bet that any EMS folks who weren’t looking for an ICE number before — are now.

The second part involves a bit of an anecdote.

I received that e-mail forwarded by another officer who happened to be in the office with me when I opened my e-mail account. I read the e-mail, paused for a second, turned and asked, “Didn’t you tell me once that it’s best to keep your cell phone keypad locked?”

“Yes,” answers he, “If someone steals my cell, I don’t want them to be able to access all that personal information.”

“Huh,” sez I, and returned to vetting my e-mail. A couple of minutes later, I hear quiet beeping behind me. Without turning around, I ask: “Unlocking your keypad, or removing the ICE number?”

“Oh, be quiet,” responds he.

ICE numbers are great — if you leave your phone unlocked.

If you leave your phone unlocked so as to allow access by strangers in the event of an emergency, all of your personal information is accessible to any critters with sticky fingers and a loose interpretation of property rights.

Personally, I find the best idea is to grab a blank business card, write the name and number of your emergency contact on it, laminate it, and put it in your wallet or purse behind your drivers license — or just put it in a pocket. Those are the first places emergency types look for ID anyway.

As always, your mileage may vary.


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12 thoughts on “In Case of Emergency”

  1. A couple of notes:
    1. My wife and I just upgraded our cell phones, and they both came preloaded with an ICE category into which we could place up to 3 contact names. It is first in the list of contacts. Mine also has the ability to add up to 3 free-form notes of up to 1000 characters apiece, for vital information, perhaps allergy info and such.
    2. There is a difference between a phone lock and a keypad lock. The keypad lock is to keep from dialing a call when the phone is in the pocket or purse, and usually has a simple 1- or 2-stroke enable/disable combination. The phone lock, on the other hand, is designed to keep people from using the device unless they have the unlock code.

    One time I had programmed 911 into my wife’s phone contacts list, and assigned it to the speed dial #9. The thought was that she’d only have to hold one button down in case something went pear-shaped. Well, the phone was in her purse once, without the keylock engaged. Yep, scene cuts to cell phone self-dialing 911 inside the purse. I removed the contact entry shortly after she received a return call from 911 trying to decipher the odd muffled noises they heard…

  2. Personally I just put my families relation to me in parenthesis after their name. Or really if you just named the contact “Husband”, “Wife”, “Mom”, “Dad”, etc. I would think that would be something that would catch anyone’s eye, rather then relying on them to know or figure out an acronym.

  3. I wear a Medic Alert bracelet that has my emergency contact’s name and number.

    I’ve worn it since I was diagnosed with cancer. It’s sterling silver and I only take it off to polish it occasionally. Now, I feel kinda naked without it.

  4. Yep, I’ve been in the “keep it simple stupid” contact number list for years. Put four or five numbers on a small spot of folded paper, and write “For Emergency” on it, and tape it to the back of my DL. Besides, if someone can get into my phone somehow, who doesn’t call their grandmother something like “Grandma” to their face and in their address book?

  5. As soon as I started reading this post I started to wonder if I’m the only one that keeps the phone lock on auto self lock. When you “wake up” my phone (or IF you figure out how to do it, its a touch screen phone and the button is kind of hidden), the only thing you see is a message promising a reward for returning my phone and my wife’s cell number. I have no idea if an EMS worker would think to dial it.

    There is NO WAY I’d leave my phone unlocked. Besides protecting my data, the phone is useless to anyone. It will receive calls, but you have to know the number it uses. Even replacing the Sim Card will not unlock the phone.

    P.S. The word verification has gone completely crazy: qnexfbxk (I guess LESS THAN 8 numbers is too easy to break???)

  6. On the first page of my aforementioned little black book in my wallet, I have a note about “In Case Of Emergency,” directing one to the pertinent people.

    Look, if your wallet is being rifled through, you’re in trouble, anyway.

  7. The only absolutely fool-proof, loss-proof, and Murphy-proof method of having emergency contact numbers there, not when you need them but when emergency personnel need them is to tattoo them prominently on yourself. Of course, even that isn’t entirely Murphy-proof, a bad case of road rash or burns could obscure them.

    In other words… nothing is perfect. All you can do is what is possible, and plausible, and hope for the best.

    Oh, and nelson, I had the same experience one time. I had the emergency speed dial set on my phone, and bumped it in a store… Got the same call back from Dispatch, and spent several minutes cowering in a back corner of the electronics section reassuring the operator that no, I wasn’t under duress, yes, it was an accidental call, no I swear there isn’t a madman holding a gun on me telling me to tell you everything is all right….

    On the one hand I appreciate the difficulty of the operator needing to be absolutely sure that I wasn’t in trouble… on the other hand it was highly embarrassing, and I was tying up an emergency service all because I leaned my hip in the wrong spot….

  8. Even better than a tattoo, since you can change the text when the info changes, is Road ID. It’s a wristband, ankleband, shoe insert, or dog tag that you can wear with all of your pertinent information. While this would seem a bit silly while driving in your car, it would be immensely helpful to EMT’s if you happen to be jogging, running, riding, hiking, hunting, or fishing solo.

  9. The whole ICE thing in your phone assumes that your phone has survived what ever incident has left you in a position unable to tell the medic’s who to call.

    Given my expectations of cell phone durability, and my experiences with traumatic injury, I’m unconvinced the medics will be looking at the contents of my cell phone’s memory after they get to me.


  10. Since my phone is, overall, far more durable than its battery attachment system, I just put “Emergency Contact:” with the appropriate name/number in the startup message.
    I’ve dropped that phone on ceramic tile, concrete, carpet, and a pillow, and every time, the battery pops out but the phone is otherwise unhurt.

  11. Turin said “The whole ICE thing in your phone assumes that your phone has survived what ever incident has left you in a position unable to tell the medic’s who to call.”

    That’s absolutely right. It also assumes that the phone is readily visible, that the EMTs or Paramedics thought to look for it, and that they have the time to thumb through the contacts to look for ICE numbers.

    As a paramedic of some years (ain’t saying how many,) I’ll admit that I’ve never… not once, ever… have I looked for, cared about, or remembered to grab a patient’s cell phone.

    Put me in with the “slip of paper in the wallet” crowd.

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