In emergency situations, our first instinct is to call for help. What happens if you are in a secluded area or there are disruptions to internet services and cellphone reception? We witnessed this very situation during the tragic wildfires on Maui that took out cell service and prevented people from calling emergency services or updating loved ones about their status. Most cell towers can withstand up to a Category 5 hurricane but wildfires or power outages are a different story. Also, there have been widespread service disruptions like earlier this year when T-Mobile reported a third-party fiber interruption issue that left users across the U.S. unable to place calls or send texts for many hours.
To ensure connectivity in an emergency, it is essential to understand what resources are available on your mobile phone.
Both Apple and Android phones have features that connect users via satellite when they are outside mobile and Wi-Fi coverage. General Notes: Satellite connections may be delayed if the user is under heavy foliage, surrounded by obstructions or there is not a direct view of the sky/horizon. To share information via satellite, users must enable certain settings in advance including setting up emergency contacts. Location sharing limitations may be based on country or region and users must keep device operating systems updated to ensure optimal functionality during emergencies.
The shortcut to call emergency services is pressing the side button five times, which opens a slider with options that automatically execute if not cancelled. On some models, the phone sends a text message to the designated emergency contact after the call ends.
The Find My app shares a user’s location via satellite. Users with an iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models and Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE (2nd generation), or Apple Watch Ultra can utilize the Emergency SOS app to call or text via satellite. Through Emergency SOS, users can share Medical ID information and notify emergency contacts through the Health app. Emergency SOS is free for two years after activating an iPhone 14 or iPhone 14 Pro.
View Apple’s guidance for using an iPhone 14 Emergency SOS app here.
Features vary between Android manufacturers but like iPhones, most can call an emergency contact by pressing the power button a few times. Most manufacturers use similar software for satellite connectivity. Search for "Emergency SOS" in the Settings app's search bar. Many Emergency SOS apps send updates on current location, battery status, and some can record an emergency video. Some manufacturers enable medical information to be entered on a device’s lock screen, including blood type, allergies, and medications for easy access by emergency workers. Note: Anyone can see this information without unlocking the phone.
View general Android information on emergency services here.