While it makes sense for the Apple Watch to be at the forefront of helping people get medical attention, since it packs in so many features designed expressly for that purpose, this latest anecdote is a lesson that we shouldn’t count out the usefulness of other Apple gear when it comes to summoning help in an emergency.
According to People, 60-year-old designer Susan Putman was working in her studio in Bernardsville, New Jersey, when she had a freak accident, falling and hitting her head on a sharp metal pole.
Putman normally wears her AirPods while she works, so she can listen to music and easily call up family and friends. In this case, however, it was Siri she called for, asking the voice assistant to call 911 via a “Hey Siri” request.
I was working on a four-foot horseshoe wreath, and I stepped back to look at it and I forgot its box was sitting on the floor. I must have been very conscious about not smashing the wreath because I tripped and flew maybe 8 ft. in the air and my head landed against these metal poles.
The floral designer isn’t sure if she briefly lost consciousness, but she remembers being lucid enough to notice that she was bleeding heavily, and had nobody around to call for help. That’s when she realized that Siri was there for her.
When I reached to my head and felt that it was bleeding, I realized that my AirPods were in. There was a lot of blood and I freaked out, but I immediately said, “Hey Siri, call 911.”
It worked, connecting Putman to a 911 operator who stayed on the line, via the AirPods, until police and paramedics arrived to help.
Putman was quickly taken to the hospital, where doctors put seven staples across the side of her head and diagnosed her with a concussion. She clearly gives the credit to her AirPods for saving her life.
Honestly, if it had been another 15 minutes, I’m not sure I’d be here. There’s no doubt about it — if I didn’t have my AirPods in, I would’ve died.
Since then, Putman has been sharing her story with family and friends to make sure that everybody knows that they can use Siri on their AirPods to make a call. She told People that neither of her daughters, aged 25 and 27, had any idea that they could do this. “I’ve had so many friends buy AirPods as a result of this and learn how to use Siri,” she added.
The designer also shared her story with Apple CEO Tim Cook, after being prompted to do so during a random call with Apple Support regarding her iPad. She was in disbelief that the CEO of the largest company in the world would care, but decided to give it a shot anyway one Sunday morning. Ten minutes later, she got a response. While she didn’t share exactly what Cook said, based on other exchanges we’ve seen, Apple’s chief executive undoubtedly expressed how pleased he was to hear her story.
Using Your Apple Devices in an Emergency
Calling 911 with Siri is literally as easy as saying “Hey Siri, call 911” — provided of course that the “Hey Siri” feature is enabled. Other phrases work too, like “Hey Siri, emergency,” or “Hey Siri, call for help.”
Making a request to call emergency services isn’t the same as any other call request to Siri. Instead, Siri will treat this like an Emergency SOS call, with a three-second countdown before actually placing the call, giving you time to cancel the call if you made a mistake.
You’re taken through setting up “Hey Siri” when you first configure your new iPhone, but if you skipped the process, or even if you’re uncertain if it’s working properly, you can turn it on from Settings. Here’s how:
- On your iPhone, open the Settings app.
- Scroll down and tap Siri & Search.
- Check the switch beside Listen for “Hey Siri” and toggle it on if it’s not already enabled.
When turning Listen for “Hey Siri” on, you’ll be prompted to speak five key phrases to help train your iPhone to recognize your voice, specifically. While it’s not perfect, it does help to prevent false activations by other people nearby.
You can also use this method to retrain “Hey Siri” to better recognize your voice. Just toggle Listen for “Hey Siri” off and then back on again, and you’ll be asked to speak the same five training phrases.
Once Listen for “Hey Siri” is enabled on your iPhone, it automatically works through your AirPods as well. There’s no separate switch to turn that on or off, although it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t supported on the original first-generation AirPods from 2016; it was added to the second-generation AirPods, or “AirPods 2” that came out in March 2019, and it’s been standard on every version of the AirPods sold since, including the AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.
Of course, “Hey Siri” can also work even if you’re not wearing AirPods. Putman doesn’t say how far away her iPhone was when she fell, but there’s a good chance it would have been able to pick up her request to call 911 even without the AirPods in.
In this case, it may have been more difficult to communicate with the 911 dispatcher from an iPhone across the room, but it’s fair to say that they would still have figured out how to send help. Further, placing an emergency call via Siri will automatically enable the speakerphone if you’re not already wearing AirPods, making it easier to communicate in situations where you aren’t able to reach your iPhone.
Had Putman owned an Apple Watch, the Fall Detection feature would almost certainly have kicked in and called 911 on her behalf — even if she hadn’t regained consciousness. Fortunately, in this case she was not only conscious but had the presence of mind to realize that she could ask Siri to summon help for her.
Be sure to check out these tips for other ways to make sure your iPhone is ready to help you in an emergency.
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