ICE – an acronym for IN CASE OF EMERGENCY

What is the ICE (IN CASE OF EMERGENCY) concept?

NOTE:  There is a public service website where complete information on the ICE concept can be found.  Access to and use of the tools and information on the website is free.

Why are we presenting this?  This is something we all should be aware of due to the nature of our work.   This is a good concept, it’s logical and work’s well.  There is a perception out there amongst the public, that we (Law Enforcement/EMS/Fire) already know all about it and practice it.  IMPORTANTLY – we should be doing this for ourselves and for our families.  I’m encouraging you to do this for yourselves if you haven’t already.

EVERYTHING WE TALK ABOUT is based on this generic scenario:  A person is found ill or injured, semi-conscious or unconscious and can not communicate to anyone.  This incident could have occurred anywhere-someone’s home, job site, the highway, a public place, anywhere. 9-1-1 is called and a first responder (potentially you) arrive to find the unresponsive person.  What has happened to the person may or may not be immediately apparent.  After initial first aid is administered – you would want to know (1) who the person is (2) what medical information is available about the person to assist EMS and ER personnel who will treat the victim and (3) how do we notify the next of kin about what has happened?


Note:  A mentally incapacitated person could be another scenario.




The basic concept of In Case of Emergency (ICE) is that people take the responsibility of providing important personal and medical information about themselves, IN ADVANCE, through the In Case of Emergency (ICE) system.  A person does this in the event that he/she has a future medical emergency.  This is something you do yourself for free, it does not require one to join an organization or pay a fee to any third party.



STEP #1 – THE PRINCIPLE WAY to use the ICE system is that a person programs his/her cell phone with the names and phone numbers of emergency contact persons who can be reached using the person’s own cell phone  AND


STEP #2 – The person carries a business size ICE Card with his/her name on it and the name and phone number of emergency contact person(s) written on it.  Carrying the ICE card could be in a customary place like a wallet or purse or on/in an item such as a construction hard hat, motorcycle helmet or bicycle helmet or other piece of personal equipment. There is a trademarked ICE symbol which some people use to alert first responders to the fact that a person is using the ICE contact system.


The ICE Card is particularly important for those without a cell phone or in the event a cell phone ceases to function or is unavailable at the time of the illness/injury.


Note: For home/business locations-the ICE Card can be placed on a door, window, wall, refrigerator or any where it will likely be noticed by a first responder.  An adhesive pouch is a good way to mount the ICE Card to these items.


Note:  For autos, the ICE Card could be placed on a dashboard, a door interior or placed in a glove compartment.


STEP #3– The person provides his/her emergency contact person(s) with a completed form containing his/her personal and medical information which would be needed in a medical emergency.  Such information would include one’s name, address, CELL PHONE NUMBER, medical conditions (disease or illness history), medications, allergies, blood type, doctors name/phone number, health insurance information).  Next of kin information would also be included.


-Why does programming personal information into a cell phone work?


-There are 190 million+ cell phones in service in the United States &

-2.5 Billion+ Worldwide.

-Eighty (80%) percent of adults in U.S. now have cell phones.


-If everything goes right – IT’S QUICK – A first responder locates unconscious person, locates the person’s cell phone, and locates the person’s emergency contacts on cell phone via preprogrammed contacts.  Under the emergency contact listing, hit send button on the person’s cell phone which contacts the emergency contact.  The emergency contact person having the victim’s personal/medical information form on hand provides the first responder (you) with that information.  You in turn provide this information to the medical personnel who are on the scene or in the ER treating the victim.





1.  The initial method and one still used by many today is to place an emergency contact person under ICE in their list of contacts/phone book.


E.g. ICE-Husband, ICE-John Smith, ICE-Doctor, ICE-any name.


The down side to this method is that the first responder has to scroll down to contacts listed beginning with the Letter “I” and attempt to identify emergency contacts.


2.  An upgrade from the straight ICE-name method is to bring your emergency contacts to the top of your cell phone address list, making them the first to appear on your phone display.  To do that, one could use for example AAICE, AAAICE or AAICE EMERGENCY, AAAICE EMERGENCY to bring the listing to the top of the contact list.  (On earlier model phones placing an asterisk (*) had been one method used to bring the name to the top of the contact list).


3. The most effective method to date for bringing your emergency contacts to the top of your cell phone contact list is by using the non-language dependent E.123 Standard.  The concept is based upon assigning Arabic numerals (01-09)to denote emergency contacts and their order of importance – up to nine such persons (01name or title, 02name or title, 03name or title – 09name or title).  Using this method will automatically assign critical contacts to the beginning of any cell phone address book.  This is an international standard that was meant to provide emergency services a universal method for locating such information worldwide.  It will work in any language as all languages recognize the numerals 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9.



A person who does not speak English or one of us traveling in a non-English speaking county and who wants to use the In Case of Emergency

(ICE) concept would simply program his/her cell phone designating the emergency contact person using numbers followed by a name or

Title (e.g. 01Spouse, 02John Smith, 03Translator).  Again, these numbers placed ahead of the name or title denotes that these are emergency contacts.  This is the latest international standard promulgated by the United Nations International Telecommunications Union Agency (ITU) with the assistance of ICE4SAFETY.


Additionally it is recognized that the 01 position on the cell phone is the primary contact or phone number and each successive numbered entry is a secondary contact or phone number.


Thought:  When in a foreign country, one of your contacts might be a bilingual person – one who speaks your language and that of the host country.


Only with certain newer (VERIZON) phones – the In Case of Emergency contacts are labeled as “ICE” and appear on its own special contact line.  The In Case of Emergency contact line appears as the first contact in the phone address book.  This will not change no matter what other contacts a person enters into the cell phone.  Some phones have separate buttons I – C – E on the phone (Verizon Coupe Phone) and the emergency contact information is accessed by depressing one of these 3 buttons.  [ABOVE INFORMATION IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE FREQUENTLY]


Even with these specialized phones, the user still needs to make the effort to enter his/her emergency contact information into the phone and follow the other procedures for the emergency contact person as outlined previously.  Otherwise when the first responder accesses the In Case of Emergency listing, there will be nothing there.




1.  THIS IS A PRACTICAL BUT IMPORTANT FACTOR-the person you chose to be the emergency contact person should be someone who will normally be available, knows and recognizes your cell phone number, will in fact answer the cell phone call and then be able to locate and provide the emergency information you have entrusted to them.


2.  DON’T LOCK YOUR CELL PHONE.  If your cell phone is locked and requires a pass code to unlock, first responders will not be able to access your cell phone to locate emergency contact (ICE) information.



This aspect of the ICE system should not be under rated.  Statistically it takes 6 hours+ to identify an unknown person and contact a next of kin or significant partner.  Relatives with Power of Attorney or persons serving as a Health Care Proxy may be needed to give consent for medical treatment (aka – advance directives) or other critical health care decisions.  At the very least, a person’s “next of kin” would want to know about and possibly respond to assist their family member during a serious illness, injury or death.



ICE is being advanced as a personal preparedness concept and safety tool internationally by the United Nations, National Police and Firefighting Associations, US Federal and State Regulatory Agencies, Local Police, Fire/Rescue and Sheriff’s Departments, Businesses, Construction Contractors, Hospital Emergency/Trauma Centers, Emergency Physicians and Nurses Associations, Professional Safety Associations, Numerous Health Related Non-Profit Groups and Sporting Organizations, Medical Advice Newsletters, National Cable(CNN/Fox) Network Stations, Local Radio and TV Stations  [CONSIDER LISTING SOME IN YOUR AREA]



Note:  It is foolhardy to insist people rely solely on any single method or device to provide a complete and effective means of emergency preparedness. The practice of having multiple or “redundant” means of dealing with an emergency or “Back Up” is a key principle to improving the effectiveness of any emergency preparation.


Some typical methods to increase effectiveness of this ICE Concept: 


Place an ICE Sticker on your cell phone and emergency information documents.

Use the ICE Symbol as the main screen and front display of your cell phone to further alert responders

Leave a voice (audio)message in your phone with contact and critical emergency medical information

Create duplicate emergency contact information on your phone memory as well as your phone’s SIM Card if so equipped.

Save a photo of yourself in the phone memory named “phone owner” or using your name. 

Write out a list of emergency contacts and take a photo using your phone camera a save as ICE Contacts

Carry an ICE Card and emergency medical information forms in your wallet, in your car, boat, recreation vehicles, backpack, skis, helmets and with your contacts.

You may have extensive medical information that might require it be backed up on USB Flash Drive – make sure that is marked as ICE or use an ICE Sticker.  

Don’t ever rely on one single method of preparing for your own safety.