iPhone Emergency Calls: How to Use Apple SOS

Contact emergency services on your iPhone or Apple Watch

Person on cell phone next to a car that has gone off the road.

  Ascent Xmedia/Getty Images

The iPhone's Emergency SOS feature makes it easy to get help right away. With it, you make calls to emergency services and notify your designated emergency contacts of your situation and your location using the iPhone's GPS.

Instructions in this article apply to iPhones running iOS 12 or iOS 11 and Apple Watches running watchOS 5 and earlier.

What Is iPhone Emergency SOS?

Emergency SOS settings on iPhone

Emergency SOS is built into iOS 12 and iOS 11. When you activate it:

  • Moving a slider or pressing a button places a call to local emergency services.
  • An alarm lets you know that an emergency call is about to be placed.
  • The iPhone notifies designated emergency contacts of your location (your phone's location).
  • Your emergency contacts are notified when your phone moves to a different location.

Because Emergency SOS requires iOS 12 or iOS 11 to work, it's only available on iPhones that run those operating systems. That's the iPhone 5S, iPhone SE, and on up through the iPhone XR and XS. You can find the iPhone's Emergency SOS features in Settings > Emergency SOS. The same emergency SOS features are available on the Apple Watch.

How to Make an Emergency SOS Call

Calling for help with Emergency SOS is easy, but how you do it depends on the model iPhone you have. Access to Emergency SOS is available from the iPhone's Home screen, whether it is locked or not.

iPhone X and iPhone 8

On iPhone 8 and newer, you have two options: either click the side button five times in rapid succession or hold down the side button and one volume button at the same time until the Emergency SOS slider appears on-screen. Rapidly clicking the button five times triggers the call to emergency services. When you move the Emergency SOS slider, the call begins right away.

If you continue to hold the side and volume buttons, a countdown to the call begins, and an alert sounds. Continue to hold these buttons until the end of the countdown, and the call to emergency services starts.

Placing an emergency call from the iPhone lock screen

iPhone 7 and Earlier 

On the iPhone 7 and earlier models, the only way to trigger Emergency SOS is to click the side button five times rapidly. ​This causes the Emergency SOS slider to appear on the screen. When you drag the Emergency SOS slider, the phone calls emergency services.

Notifying Your Emergency Contacts

After your call with emergency services ends, your emergency contacts receive a text message. The text message lets them know your current location as determined by your phone's GPS. Even if Location Services is turned off in the iPhone's settings, it is temporarily enabled to supply this information. 

If your location changes, another text is sent to your contacts with the new information. You turn off these notifications by tapping the status bar at the top of the screen and then tapping Stop Sharing Emergency Location.

How to Cancel an Emergency SOS Call

Ending an Emergency SOS call — either because the emergency is over or because the call was an accident — is simple:

  1. Tap the Stop button on the Emergency SOS screen.

  2. In the menu that pops up from the bottom of the screen, tap Stop Calling.

    Canceling the Emergency SOS
  3. If you set up emergency contacts, you also have to indicate whether you want to cancel notifying them.​

How to Disable iPhone Emergency SOS Calls

By default, triggering an Emergency SOS call using the side button or by continuing to hold down the two-button combination immediately places a call to ​emergency services and notifies your emergency contacts. If you think there's a high likelihood that you'll accidentally trigger Emergency SOS, you can disable that feature and stop mistaken 911 calls. Here's how:

  1. Tap Settings on the iPhone Home screen. ​

  2. Tap ​Emergency SOS.

  3. Move the Auto Call slider to the Off/white position. 

    Emergency SOS settings showing Auto Call option on iPhone

How to Disable the Emergency SOS Countdown Sound

One of the hallmarks of an emergency is a loud alarm to draw your attention to the situation. That's the case with the iPhone's Emergency SOS when you have Auto Call activated. When an emergency call is triggered, a loud sound plays during the countdown to the call so that you know the call is imminent. If you'd rather not hear that sound, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings on the iPhone Home screen.

  2. Tap Emergency SOS.

  3. Move the Countdown Sound slider to the Off/white position. 

    Path to turn off countdown sound in Emergency SOS settings in iPhone

How to Add Emergency Contacts

The Emergency SOS feature's ability to automatically notify the most important people in your life of an emergency is valuable, but you need to have added contacts to the Health app that comes loaded with the iOS for it to work. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Tap Settings on the iPhone Home screen.

  2. Tap Emergency SOS.

  3. Tap Set up Emergency Contacts in Health, which opens your Medical ID in the Health app.

    Adding emergency contacts for Emergency SOS on iPhone
  4. Set up your Medical ID if you haven't already done so by filling in your birthdate, any medical conditions or notes, allergies, and medications. Tap Edit at the top of the screen to make changes and scroll down to the Emergency Contacts section. Tap add emergency contact, which opens your address book.

    The Medical ID in the iPhone Health app
  5. Select a contact from your address book by browsing or searching. You can only select people who are already in your Contacts, so add them to your address book before you get to this step.

  6. Tap the relationship of the contact to you to enter the contact as an emergency. Tap add emergency contact again to add additional people. Tap Done when you are finished.

  7. Tap Done when you are finished.

    Selecting emergency contacts in the Medical ID

The emergency contacts you entered are now listed in both your Medical ID and the Emergency SOS screen.

How to Use Emergency SOS on the Apple Watch

When you can't reach your iPhone, you can make an Emergency SOS call on your Apple Watch. On the original and Series 2 Apple Watch models, your iPhone needs to be nearby for the watch to connect to it, or the watch needs to be connected to Wi-Fi and have Wi-Fi calling enabled. If you have a Series 3 or later Apple Watch with an active cellular data plan, you can call right from the watch. Here's how:

  1. Hold down the side button (not the digital crown) on the watch until the Emergency SOS slider appears.

  2. Slide the Emergency SOS button to the right or keep holding the side button.

  3. The countdown begins, and an alarm sounds. At the end of the countdown, the call is placed.

    Emergency SOS on Apple Watch screen

Cancel the call by tapping the End Call button or, on some models, firmly pressing the screen and then tapping End Call.

When your call with emergency services ends, your emergency contacts receive a text message with your location.

Just like on the iPhone, you have the option of pressing the side button only and not touching the screen. This makes Emergency SOS calls even easier to place. To enable that option, open the Watch app on your iPhone, select Emergency SOS, and then move the Hold Side Button slider to the On/green position.

Apple Watch settings on the iPhone