Residents asked to put phones on “ICE”

By David Irvin

A nationwide initiative is underway to help emergency personnel locate next-of-kin and emergency contacts for incapacitated victims in those critical moments following an accident, officials say.
The idea is simple: Mobile phone users place emergency contact information in their phone’s contact numbers under the heading “ICE.” Emergency personnel can quickly find names and numbers under that heading and make the essential contacts.
ICE stands for “in case of emergency,” and increasingly emergency medical personnel will look for the entry as a new public awareness campaign gets started this month in the area.
Executive Director of Eastern New Mexico Emergency Medical Services Jan Elliott is encouraging citizens of Clovis, Portales and the surrounding area to “ICE” their cell phones, according to a press release. Elliott says the plan was hatched by a British paramedic last year to encourage people to store emergency contact details in their mobile phones.
“Even if a victim is carrying one or more forms of identification … (such as a driver’s license), those items don’t necessarily provide information about where and how relatives and other interested parties can be reached, resulting in delays as officials try to track those people down through secondary details,” she said.
To air lift a victim to a hospital requires consent, and the ICE program could speed that process up, she said. Supporters also say the emergency information could be used to determine which medications a victim uses.
Some cell phone manufacturers are already jumping on board, such as UK-based Vodafone, which has a page on its Web site dedicated to the program. “Simply use your mobile’s phone book to store the name and number of someone who should be contacted if you have an emergency — but add the letters ICE in front of their name,” the Web site reads.
The idea swept the country by e-mail following the recent London bombings, according to Snopes.com, a Web site dedicated to investigating and exposing urban legends.
The idea is already being pushed by law enforcement in the state. Just Tuesday, the Albuquerque police started promoting the idea in their community.
“This is the 21st century answer to the 20th century use of ‘in case of emergency’ contact cards in their pocket,” said Albuquerque police spokesman John Walsh. “It just expedites the ability of law enforcement and responders to make contact with emergency contact numbers.”
There are no specific legal issues dealing with ICE-ing one’s phone, according to officials at the state attorney general’s office.
“Essentially if a person puts emergency contact information in his or her cell phone with the purpose of having emergency personnel contact another person in an emergency essentially they are voluntarily consenting for emergency personnel (to obtain that information),” said Paul Nixon of the Attorney General’s office.
Peter Simonson of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said ICE indicator should prevent emergency personnel from inadvertently violating an individual’s privacy rights. However, some restrictions should be imposed at the agency level, he said.
“I would urge law enforcement to have protocols in place to ensure privacy rights are respected,” Simonson said.
Some e-mail hoaxers have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the ICE program, according to Snopes.com. One e-mail, which followed rapidly on the heels of e-mails supporting the idea, said anyone who puts an ICE entry into their mobile will lose credits from their phone plan.
However, officials with the East Anglian Ambulance Service, the British group credited with beginning ICE, sought to discredit the hoax on their Web site in a July 13 statement.
“I have been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from people worried that, having put ICE into their mobiles, they are now going to be charged for the privilege,” said Anglian spokesman Matt Ware. “We would like to assure people that that’s not the case. Whoever began this second e-mail chain is obviously a malicious person with way too much time on their hands.”