How to use powerful emergency features on your smartphone

(Photo by Stephen Lam/Getty Images)

HOUSTON – There is a powerful emergency feature on your phone that you may not know you have. 

Emergency SOS and SOS are available on both Apple and Android devices and can call for help and alert your emergency contacts if you’re in an emergency situation.

Here’s how to put them into action.

For iPhone:

When you make a call with SOS, your iPhone automatically calls the local emergency number. You can also add emergency contacts. 

After an emergency call ends, your iPhone alerts your emergency contacts with a text message, unless you choose to cancel. Your iPhone sends them your current location, and, for a period of time after you enter SOS mode, sends updates to your emergency contacts when your location changes. 

Here's how to make the call on iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus (Apple): 
1.    Press and hold the side button and one of the volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. 
2.    Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and Volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds. If you hold down the buttons until the countdown ends, your iPhone automatically calls emergency services.
Here's how to make the call on iPhone 7 and earlier models: 
1.    Rapidly press the side button five times. The Emergency SOS slider will appear. 
2.    Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services.
After the call ends, your iPhone sends your emergency contacts a text message with your current location, unless you choose to cancel. If Location Services is off, it will temporarily turn on.
If your location changes, your contacts will get an update, and you'll get a notification about 10 minutes later. To stop the updates, tap the status bar and select "Stop Sharing Emergency Location." If you keep sharing, you'll get a reminder to stop every four hours for 24 hours.
Remember: If you use the Emergency SOS shortcut, you need to enter your passcode to re-enable Touch ID, even if you don't complete a call to emergency services. 
We all make mistakes -- if you started an emergency call by accident, press the "Stop" button, then tap "Stop Calling."

You can add emergency contacts from the Health app on your iPhone. Just remember: You can't set emergency services as an SOS contact. 

For more information, including how to set up this feature on your Apple Watch, go to Apple’s page on this feature.

For Android:

If you use a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, Samsung has included a similar feature called SOS Messages. To use it, you add up to four contacts who will receive an emergency alert when you press the power button on your device three times in a row.

When triggered, an emergency message with your location, a picture of your situation, and an audio message will be sent automatically.

Here’s how to set it up, according to

Open your phone’s settings, go to "Personal," select "Privacy and Emergency," and click "Send SOS Messages."

You can enable the feature by clicking the toggle at the top right. It will prompt you to agree to a disclaimer. Once you accept the terms, you will be able to set up SOS Messages.

Click "Send messages to" to choose up to four emergency contacts to receive your emergency alerts. You can add new contacts, or select from contacts already on your phone. Note that 911 cannot be created as an emergency contact. 

In addition to sending your location, you can choose to enable two additional SOS messaging features.

"Attach pictures" allows you to attach photos taken from both the front and rear cameras before the emergency alert is sent.

"Attach audio recording" allows you to attach a five-second audio recording to the message.

About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.