Fact Check

In Case of Emergency (ICE) Number

Paramedic advocates cell phone store emergency contact information in their address books?

Published July 11, 2005


Claim:   Paramedic advocates cell phone users store emergency contact information in their address books, but such entries leave phones vulnerable to attack.


TRUE:   Paramedic advocates cell phone users store emergency contact information in their address books.
FALSE:   "ICE" entries stored in cell phones allow viruses to access those units and drain them of their credits.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2005]

East Anglian Ambulance Service have launched a national "In case of Emergency (ICE)" campaign with the support of Falklands war hero Simon Weston and in association with Vodafone's annual life savers award. The idea is that you store the word " I C E " in your mobile phone address book, and against it enter the number of the person you would want to be contacted "In Case of Emergency". In an emergency situation ambulance and hospital staff will then be able to quickly find out who your next of kin are and be able to contact them. It's so simple that everyone can do it. Please do. Please will you also forward this to everybody in your address book, it won't take too many 'forwards' before everybody will know about this. It really could save your life. For more than one contact name ICE1, ICE2, ICE3 etc


Origins:   One of the difficulties long faced by emergency services personnel is how to locate next of kin for (or obtain other necessary information about) a victim who is unconscious, dead, or otherwise unable to respond to questions. Even if the victim is carrying one or more forms of identification which have remained with him (such as a driver's license), those items don't necessarily provide information about where and how relatives or other interested parties can be reached, resulting in delays as officials try to track those people down through ancillary


This issue has been addressed through a variety of means over the years, as many people have taken to carrying lists of emergency contacts (and vital medical details) in their purses and wallets, or wearing items such as bracelets and necklaces with such information engraved on them.

Now, Bob Brotchie, a paramedic who works as a clinical team leader for the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust has launched a campaign (sponsored by Vodafone's annual Life Savers Awards) to get people to store "In Case of Emergency" (ICE) information in items that have become ubiquitous in many parts of the world: cell phones.

The scheme proposes that people enter ICE information into the address books of their cell phones, whence it can be retrieved by emergency workers. (This campaign is not a result of the July 2005 terrorist bombings in London; it was underway well before those attacks occurred.)

According to Vodafone:

[R]esearch carried out by Vodafone that shows more than 75 per cent of people carry no details of who they would like telephoned following a serious accident.

Bob, 41, who has been a paramedic for 13 years, said: "I was reflecting on some of the calls I’ve attended at the roadside where I had to look through the mobile phone contacts struggling for information on a shocked or injured person.

"It's difficult to know who to call. Someone might have "mum" in their phone book but that doesn't mean they'd want them contacted in an emergency.

"Almost everyone carries a mobile phone now, and with ICE we'd know immediately who to contact and what number to ring. The person may even know of their medical history."

Some drawbacks to the proposed scheme come to mind:

  • The cell phone has to remain with the victim (or otherwise be identifiable as his) in order to be of use. While most wallets and purses will contain some items bearing photographs that can be matched to their owners (such as driver's licenses), a cell phone doesn't necessarily provide any direct means of identifying its owner. And while any form of ID can become separated from the person bearing it, a cell phone is an object frequently carried in hand, greatly increasing the chances of its loss in an accident.
  • A cell phone can be damaged to the point that information stored in (or through) it is no longer retrievable. This is also true of other forms of identification (a piece of paper or a card can be rendered unreadable by fire or water damage), but non-electronic devices will generally survive falls or impacts that might otherwise render cell phones non-functional.
  • Cell phones come in many different brands and varieties, and how to retrieve stored information may not be immediately apparent to someone trying to work with an unfamiliar type of phone. As well, many cell phone users secure their phones with PINs to prevent unauthorized use, a factor which could conceivably block any attempts by emergency personnel to retrieve information from them.

There are some other ancillary points about this scheme we should make as well:

  • ICE entries are more likely to be of use to hospital personnel than paramedics; the latter don't generally have the time or the need to go searching for that type of information.
  • Although the ICE address book entry scheme has come to public attention through the efforts of persons in England, it need not be restricted to that locale. The plan requires no geographically-bound system or infrastructure to be in place; it will work wherever people adopt and publicize the practice.
  • As the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) has noted, ICE entries in cell phone address books should be used in addition to (not in place of) more standard forms of

    Contrary to several chain e-mail warnings, ICE is not something that Paramedics will rush to look for the instant they arrive at an emergency, and is certainly not required in order for LAFD Paramedics to provide quick, focused and compassionate emergency care.

    We tell people: Add ICE to your cell phone only after you've affixed similar information to (or near) the official photo identification you routinely carry in your wallet.


    With so many types and brands of wireless phones, it can take precious minutes to learn how to access a phone's directory. Many wireless devices are also found to be locked, damaged or have discharged batteries following an incident, rendering ICE unusable.

    Please do encourage your interested friends and colleagues to make an ICE entry in their cell phone, especially if it will give them peace of mind — but not at the expense of written emergency contact and medical information.

  • Following quickly on the heels of advisories to add "ICE" entries to mobile phones were hoax warnings that doing so would trigger premium charges thanks to malicious text messages or viruses randomly sent to phones to scan for such entries:

    To all those who received a copy of the e-mail recommending that the word ICE be added to their phones address book (In case of emergency contact). I can not say for sure that information I have received this morning is legitimate, but better to warn you all.

    I am very sorry to report that some small minded idiot has created a text message that is being sent out randomly to mobile phone users, this text has a programme included that searches your phones address book for the word "ICE" or "I.C.E" and if found, you are charged for a premium rate message.

    It is a real shame that this sort of abuse happens, could I please ask all of you that have added ICE to your phone address book to remove it immediately. I am very sorry for any inconvenience this might cause.

    You know the email that's gone round saying put ICE then a contact number in case of emergency? Well don't do it cos....

    Be very careful with this one - although the intention is great it is unfortunately phase one of a phone based virus that is laying a path for propagating very quickly. Passing it on is part of the virus interestingly, such is the deviousness of the people who write these things.

    We have already seen the "second phase" where a program is sent as part of a ring-tone download that goes into your address book and looks for something it recognises - you've guessed it, an address book entry marked "ICE or I.C.E." or whatever. It then sends itself to the "ICE list", charging you for the privilege.

    These warnings are hoaxes; no such danger exists. As the East Anglian Ambulance service noted on their web site:

    Email hoaxers are threatening a campaign to encourage people to store contact details in their mobile phones.

    The ICE (In Case of Emergency) scheme gained widespread coverage in the wake of Thursday’s London bombings as word spread by email throughout the world.

    People can add into the mobile’s address book ICE and the name and number of the person they would like contacted in an emergency.

    But a subsequent email circulated by malicious hoaxers suggests that ICE is a type of mobile phone virus which accesses your address book and drains pay-as-you-go phones of its credits.

    Matt Ware, spokesman for the East Anglian Ambulance Service, asked people to ignore the hoax email.

    "I have been inundated with emails and phone calls from people worried that, having put ICE into their mobiles, they are now going to be charged for the privilege," he added.

    "We would like to assure people that that’s not the case. Whoever began this second email chain is obviously a malicious person with way too much time on their hands."

    Last updated:   4 July 2011

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.