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 11 or iOS 12.

What Is iPhone Emergency SOS?

iPhone emergency SOS screenshots

Emergency SOS is built into iOS 11 and iOS 12. 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 (or at least your phone's location).
  • Your emergency contacts are notified when your phone moves to a different location.
  • The same features are available on the Apple Watch.

Because Emergency SOS requires iOS 11 or iOS 12 to work, it's only available on phones 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 Emergency SOS features in Settings > Emergency SOS.

How to Make an Emergency SOS Call

making emergency sos call on iphone screenshots

Calling for help with Emergency SOS is easy, but how you do it depends on the model iPhone you have.

iPhone 8, iPhone X, and Newer

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.

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 slider, the phone calls emergency services.

Notifying Your Emergency Contacts

After your call with emergency services ends, your emergency contact(s) receive a text message. The text message lets them know your current location as determined by your phone's GPS. Even if Location Services are turned off, they are 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.

To learn more about options for sharing your location with friends, family, and others, check out How to Share Your Location on iPhone or iPad.

How to Cancel an Emergency SOS Call

cancel an emergency SOS call screenshots

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

  1. Tap the Stop button.

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

  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 Auto-Calls

disable auto call for iPhone emergency SOS screenshots

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. ​

  2. Tap ​Emergency SOS.

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

How to Disable the Emergency SOS Countdown Sound

disable countdown sound for iPhone emergency SOS

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 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.

  2. Tap Emergency SOS.

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

How to Add Emergency Contacts

add emergency contacts to iPhone screenshots

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.

  2. Tap Emergency SOS.

  3. Tap Set up Emergency Contacts in Health.

  4. Set up a Medical ID if you haven't already done so by filling in your birthdate, any medical conditions or notes, allergies, and medications.

  5. Under Emergency Contacts, tap add emergency contact.

  6. Select a contact from your address book by browsing or searching. You can only select people who are already in your Contacts so you may want to add them to your address book before getting to this step.

  7. Tap Done to save.

How to Use Emergency SOS on the Apple Watch

emergency SOS on Apple Watch screeshots

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.

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 contact(s) 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 phone, select Emergency SOS, and then move the Hold Side Button slider to the On/green position.