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Friday, 23 August 2013

SOS and Emergency Apps for Women - a review of ICE for Android

A short while ago, the Mumbai Police launched an SOS App for emergency situations. Such apps have been around for some time, but have not been actively promoted or recommended as a way for people on crime scenes to summon quick relief. Awareness and need for such apps has been steadily growing in India in the wake of the Delhi gangrape case and growing concern about the safety of women in our cities.

You can download the free app called ICE - Mumbai Police from the Google Play Store. Recently, an iOS version was also launched. You should be able to use most of the functions in the app even if you are not in Mumbai but the pre-listed hotline numbers may be different for your city.

Start-up screen

Homescreen of the ICE App
Three types of actions are possible from the app home screen that you see above:

1) Access to general information

You can read useful information under the sections 'Family Emergency Kit' and 'Essentials for Emergency Kit'. Possibly put together under the guidance of the police, these sections give you a checklist of things that you must maintain for emergencies - a first aid box, a utility kit, emergency rations, scanned copy of all important documents in the cloud etc.  The section "In case of emergency' gives you brief instructions on what to do in a variety of situations including fire, flood and terrorist attack.

2) Access and call emergency phone numbers

You can use the app to make one-click calls  to public Mumbai hotline numbers including Ambulance Service, Police Control Room and Women's Helpline.

Click the phone icon to call emergency services
The app uses GPS to list nearby hospitals. Alternately you can access a city-wise directory of key hospitals in any part of India. Again, phone numbers have been given for all the hospitals.

List of nearby hospitals with approx. distance from my location

The app has Google Maps in-built, allowing you to navigate to the nearest hospital. 

Use Google Maps to navigate from your location to the nearest hospital

In addition to the pre-defined emergency numbers, you can also enter your own list of emergency numbers, categorised into various fields like doctor, family and local police station. This is a useful resource for the user, or anyone who is assisting the user in distress as they can easily find your key contacts and notify them.

Enter your personal emergency phone numbers

You can input personal medical information on blood group, medication, allergies etc. into the app which is helpful to doctors treating you in case of emergency.

Fields to enter life-saving medical information

3) SOS Function

This is the raison d'etre and most crucial functionality of the app. ICE will send an SOS Emergency message to a pre-defined list of contacts, at the press of a button. It DOES NOT send SMS directly to the police (and it ought not to, otherwise their energy might get diverted in investigating accidental or prank summons).

When you first run the app, it will ask you to add at least one SOS contact, and will remind you each time till you do this.

To set it up, you need to add contacts under the SOS Field (only SOS contacts receive an automatic SMS at the press of a button). There is no limit on the number of SOS contacts that you can set up, and you can enter upto two mobile numbers per contact.

Use the 'contact' button to import numbers from your contacts

I set up three emergency numbers - my dad and two friends - and tested the SOS function. To activate it you need to press and hold the red SOS button in the top right hand corner of the screen. Hold it for 10-15 seconds and it will trigger a loud alarm sound which lasts for a count of 30 seconds. The alarm is REALLY loud and bound to attract attention.

Press the red SOS button to trigger a loud alarm and send automatic emergency messages

Simultaneously, SMS messages will go out to your SOS contacts - I checked this and it works perfectly. The location information gets automatically included in the SMS.

This is the text of the SOS SMS that your emergency contacts will receive

As an Indian, I have experienced a lot of anger, sadness and introspection after  the Delhi Gang Rape. I deeply desire a safer world for us to live in. And I think any initiative that helps us to protect ourselves, help others, or help the police, is a valuable one. I urge everyone who reads this post to download and try out this app. It's a small step, but it's a good one. In an emergency, even small things can make a big difference.