Sarah Everard: Women are sharing a simple phone trick that alerts contacts if they're in danger

·7-min read
Women are sharing a personal safety phone tip on social media. (Getty Images)
Women are sharing a personal safety phone tip on social media. (Getty Images)

Women have been sharing an emergency SOS iPhone feature that will alert emergency services as well as your contacts if you're in danger, following the disappearance of Sarah Everard.

The 33-year-old went missing as she walked home, and while investigations are still ongoing a Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

The case has served to shine a light on women's safety, and both men and women have been sharing tips and tricks they've used to help women feel more secure as they go about their daily lives.

One tip that has proved popular amongst iPhone users is the Emergency SOS function, which is being shared widely on Instagram.

Read more: Why the divisive reaction to Sarah Everard's disappearance is so important

Apple has confirmed the existence of the SOS function and has explained exactly how to set up the service.

Emergency SOS is pretty easy to activate, but you will need to know what model your iPhone is to work out how to activate it.

"With Emergency SOS, you can call for help quickly and easily, as well as alert your emergency contacts," the site explains.

Here's how it works: When you make a call with SOS (using the steps outlined below), your iPhone will call the local emergency number automatically.

You can also add emergency contacts. After an emergency call has finished, your iPhone can alert your emergency contacts with a text message, unless you choose to cancel this option.

Your iPhone sends them your current location, and, for a period of time when you have entered SOS mode, it sends updates to your emergency contacts when your location changes.

On iPhone 8 or later, you can choose to call by pressing and holding the side button and one of the volume buttons.

On iPhone 7 or earlier you can make the call by rapidly pressing the side button five times, then dragging the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services.

Here's how to change the settings so Emergency SOS is turned on:

  1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone.

  2. Tap Emergency SOS.

  3. Turn Call with Side Button on or off. Pressing and holding the side button along with the volume button will continue to work when this is on.

Watch: British women demand safety following Sarah Everard case.

Android users also have an SOS option, which can be activated by going into settings and pressing on the Advanced Features tab.

Search ‘SOS messages’ in your settings – this will vary depending on which Android phone you have, but it should be under ‘advanced features’ on Samsung phones.

Another safety app which is being shared on social media is Hollie Guard, which turns your mobile into a personal safety device.

If you feel concerned about your safety, a simple tap or even shaking your phone will activate the app's personal safety features, immediately notifying your chosen contacts, pinpointing your location and sending audio and video evidence directly to their mobile phones.

bSafe is another app that could help people feel safer. It has an alarm, the ability to share your location with friends, a map to locate your friends, a way to request your friend track your journey and a button that allows you to receive a fake phone call.

Read more: Internet users praise Uber driver who pretended to be woman’s boyfriend to ward off pushy man

Farah Benis, founder of street harassment campaign Catcalls of London and security firm FFA Security Group, has put together some suggestions for other ways women can feel safer.

"Make use of apps such as Life360 or Find my Friends. They are heavy on battery use but it does mean that your trusted circle will have access to your location at all times," she suggests.

"Safe and the City is another great app for journey planning that collates data from multiple organisations and calculates routes based on how safe they are - it takes into account reports of harassment, routes that are well lit, routes that are busy and tend to be more populated."

While Benis believes the focus of the safety conversation needs to be on creating safer public spaces she has put together some further steps that we can all take to safeguard ourselves.

- Be conscious and aware of your surroundings.

- Don't listen to loud music in both ears so that you can remain alert to what is happening around you.

- Stick to well-lit busy routes, where possible - the above-mentioned Safe and the City app can help you plan a journey accordingly.

- Don't use unlicensed taxis and share the details of your journey with someone trusted - "Uber allows you to share your journey with a contact and I really recommend making use of this feature," Benis says.

- Have a check-in system. "I do this with my work team and I do this with my friends," she explains. "If we know someone is out we have specific times to check in with one another by on a group chat. If someone misses a check-in, multiple people are able to follow up to ensure that they are ok."

There are many personal safety apps people can use to help them feel more secure. (Getty Images)
There are many personal safety apps people can use to help them feel more secure. (Getty Images)

What to do if you need emergency help but can't speak

If you need to call 999 but can’t speak, secretly dialling ‘55’ while on a call with the emergency call handlers is one of the ways you can urgently get in touch with police.

According to Full Fact, the UK's independent fact checking charity, there has been some confusion over what to do if you need the assistance of the police but can’t actually speak.

There have been claims that calling 999, then pressing ‘55’ when someone answers and hanging up is enough to alert the police they are needed and potentially allow the police to track your location.

But Full Fact has revealed that while typing ‘55’ on a 999 call from a mobile, when prompted, is a way to alert the automated system that you need police assistance, you should not hang up as soon as you do this.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct have compiled a guide to help inform people how the 999 system works and what people should do if they need to contact the police but can’t speak.

Read more: Police force advises women not to exercise alone

What is the Silent Solution System?

The Silent Solution System is used to filter out large numbers of accidental or hoax 999 calls and help those who are unable to speak, but who genuinely need police assistance.

When you’ve been put through to the Silent Solution System an automated voice asks the caller to press ‘55’ if they need police assistance.

When transferred to your local police force, the police call handler will attempt to communicate with you by asking simple yes or no questions. If you are not able to speak, listen carefully to the questions and instructions from the call handler so they can assess your call and arrange help if needed.

As explained by Full Fact, pressing 55 does not allow police to track your location, nor should you just hang up.

Commenting on the Silent Solution System IOPC Regional Director Catrin Evans said in a press release: “It is always best to actually speak to a police call handler if you can, even if by whispering, but if you are putting yourself or someone else in danger by making a sound, there is something you can do.

“Make yourself heard by coughing, tapping the handset or once prompted by the automated system, by pressing 55.

Evans believes there is a lack of public awareness of the Silent Solution system and the police are therefore keen to share the information as widely as possible.

“It could potentially save a life,” she adds.

Watch: Women's voices should not be silenced says Angela Rayner.

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