In Case of Emergency

An ICE storm is blanketing the U.S. - an "In Case of Emergency" campaign, that is.

Emergency management officials across the U.S. are urging people to store the word ICE in their mobile phone address books. Then enter the number of the person to contact in case of emergency.

"In an emergency situation, ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them," explained Les Kerr, law enforcement coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri. "For more than one contact name, type ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, and so on."

The campaign - which was launched in May in Britain - has taken off in the wake of the London bombings earlier this month. It's the brainchild of British paramedic Bob Brotchie, who found that most people don't carry emergency contact cards - but many of them carry cell phones.

ICE is catching on in the United States. Emergency management officials in Florida, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma, Texas and other states are publicly supporting the concept, reporting it helps everyone from families to sheriffs' offices. Paramedics nationwide are now being advised to search ICE on the cell phones of people they're treating.

The ICE acronym allows emergency officials to quickly access the right names from a cell phone's address book. It can save valuable time, since many people identify family members only by name in their cell, making them indistinguishable from other entries.

The campaign is not without its difficulties. Someone besides an emergency responder could call an ICE contact from a lost or stolen cell phone. And many cell phone users use password protection on their phones, and cell phones also might be damaged during a disaster or an accident. That's why people should also keep a card of emergency contacts in their wallet or purse. Still, since imputing ICE is free and relatively easy, it's worth the effort, agreed emergency response officials.

ICE has caught on so quickly it already sports its own hoax counter-campaign. A hoax e-mail is traveling around the Internet informing people that the ICE prefix would let hackers into a cell phone. No such danger exists, said emergency management officials and cell phone companies across the board. Disaster responders are using the ICE campaign for their own families.

Entering ICE on a cell phone can be an especially good idea for children and teenagers who may have no driver's license or photo identification. Mary Gaudreau, director of care ministries for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church, found out about the ICE campaign when she received an e-mail from emergency management officials. "I got on it right away," she said, adding that her family now uses ICE. Gaudreau sent a family e-mail containing a list of family emergency contact names and numbers. "They could enter them into their phones easily," she said.

The Center for Peace, a Muslim community center in central Florida that has offered both immediate and long-term response to that state's many hurricanes, also publicly urged people to participate. "Please take a moment to program someone that you would like to be contacted in case of an emergency into your cell phone with the word ICE," urged the center. "Public safety officials around the world will know what this means."

There are currently 192 million cell phone users in the United States, and ICE is widely regarded by responders as a commonsense step that could make a positive difference.

Follow these hints to get the best out of ICE:

  1. Make sure the person whose name and number you are giving has agreed to be your ICE partner.
  2. Make sure your ICE partner has a list of people they should contact on your behalf - including your place of work.
  3. Make sure your ICE person's number is one that's easy to contact, for example a home number could be useless in an emergency if the person works full time.
  4. Make sure your ICE partner knows about any medical conditions that could affect your emergency treatment - for example allergies or current medication.
  5. Make sure if you are under 18, your ICE partner is a parent or guardian authorized to make decision on your behalf - for example if you need a life or death operation.
  6. Should you your preferred contact be deaf, then prefix the number with ICETEXT.
  7. For more than one contact name, type ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, and so on.

(Article courtesy of New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control)