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How to set up Emergency SOS and fall detection on your Apple Watch

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Get help in an emergency

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Step counting is all well and good, but the Apple Watch offers a number of important emergency- and health-related features that could keep you alive and are worth utilizing.

The Emergency SOS function is designed to notify people that you’re in trouble and what your location is, so that someone can come to the rescue. “Show When Locked” will allow important medical conditions to be seen on your home screen even if your phone is locked. You can also set up emergency contacts, and instruct the phone to detect falls.

Setting up Show When Locked

“Show When Locked” can be important if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes or an allergy that could trigger a health crisis; it means that if you need help, the information will be available to someone without having to unlock your phone. On your Apple Watch, the info will be available on a slider that appears when you press and hold the side button.

  • On your iPhone, find and open the Health app.
  • Tap the person icon on the upper right corner of the Summary screen.
  • In the “Medical Details” part of the profile screen, tap “Medical ID.” If this is the first time you’ve used the app, you’ll find that most of the page is taken up with a form that contains places for information about allergies, medications, blood type, etc. If you’ve already used the app, you’ll just see the info you’ve already entered; in that case, tap “Edit” in the screen’s upper right corner to see the full page.
  • At the top of this screen (which is labeled “Medical ID”), activate “Show When Locked.”

Setting up an emergency contact

Setting up your watch to call a specific person when there’s an emergency is a little convoluted, but it’s worth the effort.

  • On the same Medical ID page, scroll to the bottom of the screen to find the “Emergency Contacts” section and tap on “add emergency contact.” You’ll get a list of your contacts.
  • Select the contacts who’ll get a message with your location informing them that you’ve called emergency services. Tap “Done,” then “Back,” then “Done” to return to the Health app’s Summary page.

Summoning help

If you want to take advantage of the Emergency SOS feature on your Apple Watch, you first have to toggle this feature in your phone’s Watch app:

  • Select the Emergency SOS screen.
  • Toggle “Hold Side Button” on.

To start an Emergency SOS call on your watch, hold down the side button until the Emergency SOS slider appears (you’ll also see “Power Off” and “Medical ID” sliders). Either drag the slider or keep holding the side button down; emergency services will be called, followed by a notification to people in your emergency contact list. If you’ve activated the feature by mistake, you can tap a few times to cancel the call and the notifications.

This is not bulletproof. If your watch doesn’t have cellular service, your phone will need to be nearby, or your watch will have to be connected to a known Wi-Fi network with Apple’s Wi-Fi Calling feature. (You can set up Wi-Fi Calling by using your iPhone’s Settings app and going to “Phone” > “Wi-Fi Calling,” and then turning on “Wi-Fi Calling on This iPhone” and “Add Wi-Fi Calling For Other Devices.” )

Keep in mind that if you travel (or live) outside the United States, the service could work differently. You may have to select which service you need; for example, police, fire, or ambulance. If you have the Watch’s fifth edition along with a cellular service, you can summon local help in most countries (there are exceptions), but the watch won’t notify your emergency contacts.

Fall detection

Your watch can also detect serious falls. If it thinks you’ve taken a tumble and can’t move, the watch will send an alert to ask if you’re okay. If you don’t respond, the watch will tap your wrist, then send an alarm, and then call emergency services. You can toggle this feature in your phone’s Watch app:

  • Select the Emergency SOS screen (see above).
  • Toggle “Fall Detection” on. You’ll get a warning that if you’re physically active, you’re more likely to accidentally trigger fall detection. Tap “Confirm.”

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