First Do No Harm

Dynamic Emergency Numbers

by Judson B. Tunnell, 08-May-2023

We have had many discussions on whether to include emergency numbers in Dimensions of Wellness. The primary hesitation was not wanting to add burden to emergency dispatch systems. Most adults already know the emergency numbers where they live. Putting the number in front of users may spark emergency calls that otherwise would not have occurred.

In the end we decided that the wellness and safety of users is the number one priority. We then set about building a system that would provide users with the correct emergency number for their current location. It was surprising that neither Google nor Bing had implemented an emergency number API. They have built a suicide response tool. It provides localized suicide prevention information if the word suicide is used in a search string. We made use of that tool, but needed to build our own for localized emergency numbers.

If a user completes an assessment in Dimensions of Wellness, they may be sent to screening depending on some of their answers. The application screens of anxiety, depression and suicide, and cardio vascular health. If a user reports an urgent health care issue as part of that screening, we present dynamic localized emergency numbers to the user. We also suggest that they call for emergency assistance.

The application first checks the IP address of the users device and determines which country they are in. It also checks the address that they have entered (if any) for their profile. If the two countries are different, the application will show emergency numbers for both locations. The goal is to simply provide the correct phone number to the user.

We were wary of prompting unnecessary calls to emergency services. The Apple watch will call emergency services if it detects that you may have had a collision. This has been triggered many times on ski slopes by someone falling down while skiing. When asked about this, emergency service managers responded that they would rather receive the calls than not. They are working with Apple to reduce the unnecessary calls. While the service had generated many unneeded calls, they still felt it was a valuable service.

We will continue to watch for developments in this space. We may add the ability for users to call emergency services from the application in the future.

If this is a feature you would like to see added, or if you wish to discuss this project with us in detail, please contact

- Judson B. Tunnell
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