Emergency safety apps: which one is right for me?
Part II: Apps that notify emergency responders
How they work
Another type of emergency safety app will notify a call centre, who will then contact 000 on your behalf if you have an emergency. Often called ‘personal safety alarms,’ these services can come as a mobile app, an app that you download onto a smartphone, or a wearable device, such as a a card, bracelet, or necklace you wear.
Generally, this is how these apps work:
- If you need to ring 000, you either tap an emergency alarm on the mobile app OR you press a button on the wearable device.
- Once activated, a call centre is notified of the alarm.
- The call centre may ring you back (if it’s a mobile app) or open a 2-way connection between you and the call centre (if it’s a wearable device) to learn about your emergency and connect you with 000, or ring 000 on your behalf.
- OR some call centres may automatically ring 000 on your behalf and inform emergency responders that one of their customers (you) need emergency assistance.
Some of the apps/services allow you to share personal information with the call centre when you set up the service so that if you activate the emergency alarm, they will have a sense of what the issue is likely to be. Another feature that some of these apps/services offer is the ability to track your location via the mobile app or the wearable safety alarm.
Examples of these apps include SafeT Card and Duress.
Wearable personal safety alarms can be helpful if you worry that you won’t be able to get to a phone in an emergency. Wearables are intended to be worn at all times, so you always have it on you.
Since most of the wearables and mobile apps track your location, if you activate the alarm but are unable to speak or communicate, the call centre may automatically contact 000 on your behalf, and share your location along with any additional personal information you previously provided to the call centre.
Some wearable devices, when activated, will open a phone line between the device and the call centre. It can be set so that it is a one-way line, where the call centre hears everything (and record what is happening) but they can’t communicate back. Or it can be set so that it’s two-way, where you and the call centre can speak with each other via the wearable.
What to consider
It will always be best to ring ‘000’ yourself
If you are in an emergency, can speak, and can ring 000 yourself, it is best for you to make the call yourself. When you call, you will be able to speak with a 000-emergency operator, explain exactly what’s going on, where you are, what type of service you need, and get information about when emergency response teams will arrive. When possible, direct communication is always better than explaining it to a third-party call centre, who then relays it to 000 or for a third party to ring 000 without any of contextual information about exactly what is happening to you.
Moreover, it might be faster to simply dial 000 on your phone than to find the app and activate the emergency distress button. Most phones allow you to make emergency calls without even unlocking the phone, in less than two taps.
Not all call centres are the same
Some call centres are trained to respond specifically to emergency situations. They will have appropriate protocols and processes to connect you with emergency responders. However, some call centres may not have the appropriate training or ability to connect you with emergency responders. If you want to use these services, get as much information as you can about the call centres’ protocols and processes for responding to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking victims.
One of the potential benefits of this type of app is that you can share personal information with the call centre so that they have background information about you when they contact emergency services on your behalf. Being able to provide emergency responders with additional information can be helpful, especially if you are unable to speak to them yourself. However, consider whether you are comfortable sharing personal information with an unknown party. Although privacy laws in Australia limit when companies may share personal information, for some survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, the details of why they may need emergency assistance might be something they don’t want shared in a database accessible by employees of the service provider company. It is often difficult to find out whether a company has good security in place for the data they hold or any previous history of breaching privacy obligations.
It doesn’t guarantee faster or better response by police
Keep in mind that emergency personal safety alarms are meant to offer you additional ways to ring 000 when you need help. You should not consider these alternatives to ringing 000 yourself. In addition, these services don’t do anything more than just connecting you with emergency services. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the police will respond faster or in a better way.
If you are concerned that when you ring 000, you may not know your location to tell the emergency operator, you can always open a Maps app on your phone to find out where you are. Another option is to download the Emergency+ app, which will tell you your location and offer easy ways to ring 000, state emergency services, or the non-urgent police assistance line.
Keep in mind that your location information may be affected by the settings on your phone (if you have location services turned off on your smartphone, it will not work) and where you are (if you are in an area that have limited service, your location information may not be accurate).