Five Minute Lifesaver: ICE Your Cell Phone

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If you were knocked unconscious in a car accident, would the paramedics know who to contact? Would the doctors at the hospital know what medications you take and which ones you're allergic to? If not, this is the most important thing you can read today.

Last year, we told you that creating a full home inventory is The Most Important Thing You Can Do Today

“Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires: Disaster strikes all the time,” wrote Money Talks News reporter Brandon Ballenger. “Sure, most of us have insurance. But how many have a full home inventory? Without one, if you lose it all, without a photographic memory it’s highly unlikely you’ll remember everything you own. Which means you won’t get your due from your insurance company.”

But what if what if misfortune struck you instead of your home? Car accidents and medical emergencies happen all the time too. If you were unconscious, would first responders know how to contact your family? Could paramedics find out about your medications, allergies, or health conditions?

In the county where I live, the Sheriff’s Office estimates that 1,400 people a year are unable to communicate with first responders due to illness or trauma. And that’s just one county.

Fortunately, it takes five minutes and zero dollars to make sure those first responders can reach your emergency contacts if you’re the one unconscious. You just have to “ICE” your cell phone.

No, not like a cake. This kind of “ICE” stands for “in case of emergency.” If you add the prefix “ICE” to your emergency contacts in your phone’s contact list, first responders will know to call them first. So if Jane Doe is your emergency contact, simply change her entry in your contact list from “Jane Doe” to “ICE: Jane Doe.”

A paramedic in the United Kingdom, Bob Brotchie, came up with the idea. He told the BBC

“I was reflecting on some difficult calls I’ve attended, where people were unable to speak to me through injury or illness, and we were unable to find out who they were. I discovered that many people, obviously, carry mobile phones. It occurred to me that if we had a uniform approach to searching inside a mobile phone for an emergency contact, then that would make it easier for everyone.”

Perhaps you remember when Brotchie promoted the ICE system in 2005, gaining a lot of media attention as the system caught on in other countries, especially after the London bombings that summer. Even though the ICE system made national headlines in the United States, I’m still amazed at how many people I meet who haven’t “iced” their phones.

If you haven’t, stop what you’re doing and update your phone contact list right now. It won’t cost you more than a few minutes – and it could save your life some day.

Here are my tips for getting the most out of your icing…

  • Don’t password protect your phone or icing it is pointless. Alternatively, some phones have programmable ICE buttons that a first responder can press to call your emergency contacts without having to unlock the phone. Ask your carrier if your phone has this ability.
  • “ICE” multiple emergency contacts. In case one emergency contact can’t get to the phone when the paramedics call, pick two or three emergency contacts. Some people who have multiple ICE contacts label them something like “ICE1: Jane Doe,” “ICE2: John Doe,” etc. That way, the paramedics will know you have multiple emergency contacts, regardless of which one they scroll to first.
  • Use relationships instead of names. For example, my first ICE contact is labeled “ICE: mom.” I do this for non-ICE contacts too, just in case. So my brother is in my phone as “brother.” This helped me when I lost my phone too. I didn’t realize I’d dropped it in a parking lot and drove away. When the person who found my phone was nice enough to return it, he knew which contact was my mother – and called her to let me know where the phone could be picked up.
  • Supplement your ICE. If you have any medical conditions or drug allergies or take any medications, you should have more than ICE for emergencies. If not a medical bracelet, put something in your wallet. That’s what I do. I typed up the info; shrunk the font so all the info fit into a rectangle the size of a business card; printed it out on florescent yellow paper; cut it out; and laminated it at Kinko’s. The whole thing cost me $1.
  • ICE friends and family. Next time you talk to your folks or others you love that could benefit from ICEing, tell them about it. And if they’re tech-challenged, do it for them.

Karla Bowsher worked as a medical office administrator for 10 years before going into journalism. She now runs our Deals page and covers consumer, retail, and health issues. If you have a comment, suggestion, or question, leave a comment or contact her at [email protected].

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