Natalia Sdobnikova /

Deaf phones of the 90s and early 2000s were widely marketed as devices that could potentially save your life in an emergency. When your Apple Watch is strapped to your wrist, emergency assistance becomes much easier.

Here’s how to use perhaps the most important feature on your watch.

Make an emergency SOS call on Apple Watch

An emergency call on Apple Watch is similar to calling 911 in the US, 999 in the UK, or 000 in Australia. It will put you in touch with emergency services where you will speak to an operator to confirm if you need the police, fire department, ambulance or other emergency service in your area. If you have an Apple Watch with cellular connectivity, you can use this feature anywhere. If you have an Apple Watch without built-in cellular, you’ll need to be within range of your iPhone for it to work.

To make an emergency call directly from your Apple Watch:

  1. Press and hold the side button (not the digital crown) until the Emergency SOS slider appears.
  2. Hold the side button until the warning sounds and you will see the emergency countdown begin. Or move the «Emergency SOS» slider to the right.
  3. To end a call, press firmly (Force Touch) on the screen and press End call.
Use the side button on your Apple Watch for emergency SOS

If you’ve set up a Medical ID and assigned emergency contacts, your Apple Watch will send a text message with your current (real-time) location to anyone on the list. You have the option to cancel this on the screen before the message is sent. Your Apple Watch will temporarily turn on Location Services to get a GPS fix, even if you’ve turned off the feature.

Apple Watch Emergency SOS Slider

During a call, your Apple Watch will attempt to communicate your location directly to emergency services. Not all regions support this feature, so you may need to tell your operator where you are. If you have an Apple Watch with GPS and cellular coverage, you’ll be able to use your Apple Watch to call emergency services even if you’re traveling overseas or far away from your iPhone.

Create a medical ID with your emergency contacts

Medical ID is a quick way to provide healthcare workers and other first responders with important information about yourself. This may include any chronic health issues, severe allergies, blood type, and any emergency contacts or next of kin to be contacted in an emergency.

To view Medical ID on Apple Watch, you or the first responder can hold the side button until the Medical ID slider appears, then move the slider to the right to view your Medical ID.

You can set up a Medical ID on your iPhone and your Apple Watch will show the same data:

  1. Go to Settings > Health > Medical ID and click Edit.
  2. Complete all relevant sections, including medical conditions, allergies and reactions, current medications, and blood types.
  3. Scroll down to Emergency Contacts and click Add Emergency Contact, then select one from the list.
  4. Give your emergency contact a label describing their relationship with you, such as «father» or «partner».
  5. Click «Done» to save your Medical ID.

Enable Show medical ID when locked

We strongly recommend that you leave «Show when locked» enabled so that anyone who detects you in a state where you cannot unlock your devices can still collect important medical information. This will affect your iPhone more than your watch, as your watch must remain unlocked all day until you remove it.

Add Emergency Contacts to Medical ID

Remember that not all medical professionals will know to look for a medical ID, but many others will. Some first responders are trained to search for information on smartphones and wearables, so it’s always a good idea to keep your medical ID information up to date.

How to Find Someone Else’s Medical ID

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to verify someone else’s medical ID, you can do it on your iPhone or Apple Watch.

To check your medical ID on your Apple Watch:

  1. Press and hold the side button (not the digital crown) until the medical ID slider appears.
  2. Swipe the slider on the Medical ID to the right to view it.

To check Medical ID on iPhone:

  1. Wake up your phone and swipe up to try unlocking it (or press the home button if your phone has one).
  2. On the password entry screen, tap «Emergency Call» in the bottom left corner.
  3. On the emergency phone call screen, tap «Medical ID» in the bottom left corner.

View Medical ID on iPhone

Setting up and using Apple Watch Fall Detection

Fall detection is a feature of the Apple Watch that can detect the effects of a fall and track if a person moves after it. If the watch does not detect movement, it will automatically call emergency services and report your location. Any emergency contacts you have assigned in your medical record will also be notified.

This function has already been credited with saving lives, as in the case of New Jersey man James Prudenciano, who fell off a cliff, or Norwegian Thoralv Ostvang, who fell while staying at home alone. This feature is primarily intended for older users and is disabled by default if you are under 65.

Enable fall detection on Apple Watch

You can manually enable fall detection on your watch if you want extra protection, though this has some potential downsides. Apple explains that this feature is for seniors, not active young adults. The potential for a false positive is much higher if you are an active person.

There is a risk that Watch will call 911 and notify your emergency contacts when you don’t need to. This not only unnecessarily worries your loved ones, but can also lead to unpleasant consequences.

If you still want to enable the feature manually:

  1. Launch the Watch app on your phone and then under the My Watch tab select Emergency SOS.
  2. Scroll down to «Fall detection» and enable this feature.
  3. Confirm that you understand the disclaimer and that you still want to use this feature.

Other Ways Your Apple Watch Can Protect You

Your Apple Watch can also monitor your heart health and notify you of unusual symptoms. These include high heart rate notifications when you appear to have been inactive, low heart rate notifications, and irregular rhythm notifications.

High and low heart rate notifications are available in all territories. Launch the Watch app on your iPhone and tap Heart to set your thresholds, or leave the defaults of 120 bpm and 40 bpm respectively.

High and low heart rate notifications on Apple Watch

Irregular rhythm notifications are only available in certain regions. Some countries (like Australia) require the Apple Watch to be approved as a medical device for this feature to work, and Apple doesn’t seem too interested in speeding up the approval process. You can see which regions can use the Apple Watch Series 4 and 5 ECG features on the Apple website.

It is important to understand that if you receive an irregular rhythm warning, then you do not necessarily have atrial fibrillation. The most thorough ECG tests use 12 leads, while the Apple Watch only uses one. If you receive irregular rhythm alerts, you will be thoroughly tested using a dedicated ECG monitor before any conclusions can be drawn.

You can disable Irregular Rhythm Notifications in the Watch app on your iPhone, just tap «Heart» and then turn off «Irregular Rhythm» from the list.

Want to disable «Hold to Call» for emergency SOS?

By default, pressing and holding the side button on your watch will call emergency services. If you’re worried that you might accidentally call emergency services by holding down the button for too long, you can disable this feature. When you do this, you will have to move the «Emergency SOS» slider to the right to initiate the call.

  1. Launch the Watch app on your iPhone, then select Emergency SOS from the My Watch tab.
  2. Uncheck «Hold Side Button» to disable it.

Disable hold to invoke SOS side button behavior

We think this is probably left at default unless you’ve made an accidental emergency call using this feature in the past.

spread the word

Apple Watch is a handy device that helps you work, stay connected on the go, and even stay safe in emergencies. Consider how many friends or family members have an Apple Watch and whether they understand how features like Emergency SOS work.

It may be worth going through the procedure with them or showing them this article. Stay safe and remember what a valuable tool your Apple Watch can be.

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