Emergency safety apps: which one is right for me?

Part I: Apps that notify emergency contacts

There are many emergency safety apps for smartphones and wearable devices (sometimes also called personal safety alarms) available for victims of abuse. They generally fall into two categories: (1) services that notify a select group of individuals that you have an emergency, and (2) services that notify emergency responders that you need help. Because there are so many available, this three-part series explain what each of these types of apps/services do, the benefits and limitations of emergency safety apps, and what to think about before using an emergency safety app as part of your safety plan.

In this first article, we will talk about apps that notify emergency contacts.

The second article will discuss apps that notify emergency responders, including 000.

The third, and last, article in this series offers a series of questions to think about when incorporating emergency safety apps into a safety plan.

How they work

The most common emergency safety apps are the kind that notify a group of individuals (of your choosing) that you are in trouble or need assistance. The specific features vary but in most cases, this is how the app works.

  1. Download the app onto the mobile smartphone.
  2. Enter your chosen contacts into the app. (Some apps require a certain number of contacts while some apps only require one contact.)
  3. During an emergency, activate the app and it will notify the contacts that you require assistance. On some apps, the contacts will also receive your location.

Some apps have additional features, including the ability to select which person to call or a count-down feature where the contacts are only notified if you don’t tap on the app after a certain number of seconds or minutes after you’ve activated it.

For some apps, both you and the contacts you enter need to have downloaded the app for it to work. For other apps, you need to enter the emergency contact’s phone number or email address and the notification will be sent via SMS or email.

An example of this type of app is SafeTag.


Emergency contact apps can be helpful if you want to be able to contact someone without dialling a phone number or typing out a text message. Many of the apps will automatically notify the emergency contact once the app is activated. Other benefits depend on the additional features the safety app provides. Such as the ability to pre-activate the emergency alarm in case something should happen. In other words, you activate the emergency alarm and if you don’t deactivate it within a certain period, the emergency notification will be sent to your contacts. This might be helpful if you anticipate a risk to your safety and want to prepare.

What to consider

Talk to your contacts first

It’s important for you to think about who your emergency contacts are and whether they will know how to respond to an emergency notification. Some apps will allow you to customise your emergency message in advance, so it could say something like, “On a date. Not going well. Come and get me.” Other apps have default messages that you cannot edit, and may be something like, “Your friend needs help.” Even someone who knows you well will need some kind of context to know what to do. Make sure you know how the app works, and what type of message your contacts will get. Talk to your contacts about the circumstances in which you may use the app, and what you want them to do if they receive an emergency notification.

Know how your emergency contact will be notified

For some apps, both you and your emergency contact person need to download the app for it to work properly. For other apps, you enter your contact person’s phone number and/or email address and they are notified by SMS or email.  Again, talk to your contact person first. If they are notified via email and they only check their email once or twice a day, they might receive your emergency message much later than when you sent it. Or if your contact will be somewhere that doesn’t have mobile service and they can’t receive SMS, they may not get your message.

Make sure the location services work

For many of these apps, one of the benefits is that it will let the contact person know your location. For this to work, you will need to have your location services turned on. Depending on the type of phone you have, you might be able to turn on location for just the safety app, or you may need to have location services turned on for all functions and apps on your phone. If turning off location services on your phone is one of your safety strategies or something you always do for privacy reasons, this may prevent the app from working the way it needs to.

Would it be easier to just ring someone?

Consider whether it would be easier to just ring someone via speed dial if you need to contact them immediately. While an emergency contact app might sound appealing, think through how you would use it, under what circumstances, and whether it would be helpful to you.

Read the next article in this series, Part II: Apps that notify emergency responders

Part II: Apps that notify emergency responders

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