Emergency SOS: How to set up and use this new Apple Watch feature

By , Sep 16, 2016


A major new feature that comes baked into the watchOS 3 update for Apple Watches is Emergency SOS.

This will let you call 911 to dispatch emergency personnel to your current location and will alert your loved ones that you’re in trouble, in extreme bouts of danger, or life-threatening emergencies, right from your wrist.

Emergency SOS is smart enough to use your current location to alert the proper emergency agencies in your local area, and it even works on an international scale, not just in the United States.

When to use Emergency SOS

Because this feature dials 911, it should only be used in extreme emergencies; the same kind you would actually dial 911 on your phone for.

Obviously, you shouldn’t use it just because your cat gets stuck in a tree or because someone illegally parked their car in front of your driveway, as these aren’t emergencies. Most agencies have a non-emergency phone number for these alternative kinds of issues.

Emergency SOS is great for the following scenarios:

  • When you’re suffering from a major allergic reaction, health problem, or life-threatening injury,
  • When your house or place of business catches on fire
  • When you’ve been assaulted, kidnapped, raped, or robbed
  • Etc… the list goes on

Using Emergency SOS

To access Emergency SOS, all you need to do is press and hold the side button on your Apple Watch, and you’ll see a new red “SOS” slider at the bottom of the slider list. Sliding this slider initiates a 911 call and fires off text messages to your emergency contacts within seconds.

watchOS 3 Emergency SOS Apple Watch screenshot 001

At any time during the 911 call, you can press firmly on your Apple Watch screen with a Force Touch gesture to display a button to end the call.

Setting up emergency contacts

You are going to need to manually specify who your emergency contacts are if you want your Apple Watch to notify anyone besides 911 when you use Emergency SOS.

You might want to use this to notify your parents, children, or significant other so they can help you or at least stay updated with what’s going on. They will receive a text message bundled up with your current location any time you use the feature.

To set up which contacts get notified along with 911, you’ll need to go to follow these steps:

1) Launch the Apple Watch app on your iPhone and open the General cell.


2) Next up, tap on the Emergency SOS cell.

3) Once you’re in the Emergency SOS preferences pane, tap on the orange Add SOS Contact button.

4) You will now be presented with a list of your contacts. Tap on the ones you wish you notify whenever you use the Emergency SOS feature:


You can add up to three emergency contacts for this cause, but keep in mind that you can only add contacts with valid phone numbers. Contacts you only have email addresses for are going to appear grayed out in this list instead of white, and cannot be selected.

Setting up Auto Call

Another setting you probably spotted in the Emergency SOS preferences pane above was the Auto Call feature.


With this feature enabled, you don’t even have to bother with the emergency slider. You can just hold and keep holding the side button on your Apple Watch and it will automatically dial 911 and notify your emergency contacts for you.

This feature may be more ideal in situations where you can’t really spend time looking at your screen to make sure you’re sliding the Emergency SOS slider, such as if your hands are tethered or if you’re trying to be discreet.

A life-changing emergency contact method

Honestly, when I first heard of this feature, it sounded like Apple’s version of Life Alert. And that’s no joke, because when something happens to you, and your phone is out of reach, your Apple Watch is almost always going to be strapped to your wrist and could save your life.

With this feature in watchOS 3, it’s clear Apple is working hard to make its customers feel safer and help emergency services to do their jobs more efficiently.

Are you happy that you can now use your Apple Watch to quickly get in touch with emergency services? Share in the comments below!

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  • Alex-V

    Good thing…really !

  • Fantastic feature. Life Alert; (Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up”) is waaaaay outdated.

  • Tallrandal

    The hold to call option reminds me of the screen shots problem. I am always taking screenshots due to me pushing side buttons accidently. However, with the screen shots I could just delete them. This on the other hand, I would have to explain every why I called by accident and potential tie up the line for someone who truly needs it. Yeah I disabled the hold to call option. Outside of that, cool idea.

    • eilfurz

      same here – the “disable screenshots” -option was really necessary – everytime i bent my wrist backward, or even just hastily pressed both buttons instead of one, i made of those “very” useful screenshots. i wouldn’t dare activate the “auto call” function.

      • Tallrandal

        Just the other day I tried flipping the crown to the bottom left of my left hand. It took some getting use to, but I feel better about the buttons not always getting mashed. Yeah I hated the screenshots option. Spent more time deleting them.

    • Josh Osborne

      You have to hold it down for three seconds, and it makes a fairly distinctive noise (which makes it useless for “discreet” situations, like hiding in a closet from an axe murderer, but one feature can’t be all things to all people).

  • NetMage

    Actually you can only add 3 SOS contacts.

  • Robert.Walter

    My mom is 83, she ordered her Apple Watch the first week they were available since I told he she could use it for emergency contact. I told her eventually an SOS feature should appear but she would be able to use the phone feature in the interim. Compared to the 60$/mo cost for a Red Cross unit, it paid itself off in less than a year and she uses it for many other things (Apple Pay, calendar, maps when driving, controlling her hearing aids, etc.)

    So we were happy to see the wwdc presentation on SOS. One short coming is the watch doesn’t seem to respect foreign phone numbers with +41 7.. style format.

    After setting it up, she inadvertently tripped it by holding the button too long and it disconnected my FaceTime call and allowed her to have a chat with her local 911 dispatch. Only my sister in PA received the notice. The sister in MI did not and I in Switzerland did not either. So this is a shortcoming that needs improvement.

    My recommendation to everybody is call your local police on their non 911 number and tell them you would like to test your setup (so that 911 is informed in advance) and then use this dry run to confirm all works ok.

  • Jerry Ballard

    It doesn’t seem to allow you to add multiple numbers for the same contact, and seems to also only allow chosing ‘home’ if the contact has home and iphone numbers. (I tried making ‘iphone’ the top number, but still no dice… only adds ‘home’ number.