Your mobile device could save your life – how to protect your safety

Credit: Apple

You might not know it but there’s a guardian angel in your pocket or on your wrist.

Now more than ever, the mobile devices we carry can safeguard our health and safety should the worst happen, such as a car crash, hard fall, getting lost, medical emergency or attack.

Apart from being aware of how our phones and smartwatches can help, it’s vitally important to have them set up to do so.

This is made poignantly clear by the ongoing Samantha Murphy disappearance investigation, as well as a couple of Australian good-news tales recently shared by Apple.

And while we’re focusing on Apple devices in this article, keep in mind that Android phones and smartwatches are also equipped with many health and personal safety features.

Finding Samantha Murphy

With the investigation into the disappearance of Samantha Murphy is reaching its fourth week, police are leaning heavily into technology to learn more about her last known whereabouts.

Samantha Murphy disappeared on the 4th of February while out for a run near Ballarat in rural Victoria. When Samantha didn’t return for a brunch meeting, her family sounded the alarm but there have been no sightings of her since.

Missing person Samantha Murphy pictured, police search in forested areas
Credit: Victoria Police / 7News | The search for Samantha Murphy continues

However, as Samantha had taken her iPhone and Apple Watch with her, both have left tell-tale digital breadcrumbs behind for investigators.

For instance, Samantha’s iPhones location was triangulated from interactions with surrounding cell-towers. The “metadata” collected also included time of contact and signal strength with the towers, helping plot a timeline of events.

Other factors could also help eliminate or add new possibilities. For example, while Samantha’s Apple Watch could automatically call for help should she have fallen and been knocked unconscious or perhaps succumbed to a snake bite, no alert was triggered.

In addition, Police could be using the watch’s recorded running path to trace her movements, and her iPhone can continue to report its location up to 24 hours after its battery is depleted.

Using the data, investigators have been able to determine that Samantha’s running pace changed significantly after about 7 kilometres, possibly indicating that something may have happened to her at this location.

In recent developments, police are now able to trace other mobile phones in the vicinity during Samantha’s disappearance, some of which may contain even more digital clues that will hopefully lead to the resolution of this case.

Bruce and the kangaroo

While there are examples of life-saving feats in other countries, last week Apple shared two uplifting stories about how the Apple Watch has helped protect us down under.

In 2021, Bruce Mildenhall was speedily descending the Macedon Ranges on his road bike. Bruce remembers taking in the view from the elevation, and then hitting a “wall of fur” and waking up in an ambulance. It turned out that a kangaroo jumped across his path and knocked him off his bike while at speed.

As he lay unconscious, Bruce’s Apple Watch detected the fall and notified his emergency contacts as well as emergency services. The watch also shared his geo-location so emergency services could find him.

Bruce Mildenhall riding road bicycle in forrest in Victoria
Credit: Apple | Bruce Mildenhall back on the trails, no roo in sight

Bruce recalls waking up in the ambulance with the sound of his wife pounding on the door, asking if he was still alive. Bruce was transported to a nearby hospital where he spent a week recovering from a dislocated shoulder and fractured ribs. Bruce says that if it weren’t for his Apple Watch, he could have been out there for a while, and this may have made his recovery much worse.

Watch Bruce’s story here

Lexi’s birthday gift

Lexi Northcott was given an Apple Watch for her 16th birthday in 2019. After wearing it for a while, she started receiving Low Heart Rate notifications. These became more common, especially when Lexi was resting on the sofa.

As she was a young, active, and physically fit person, Lexi dismissed the notifications. However, the Low Heart Rate alerts continued to appear multiple times a day. It wasn’t until a year later at a doctor’s appointment for another concern that Lexi’s Mum, Karla, mentioned the warnings.

The doctor also assumed that Lexi was fine but recommend an Electro-cardiogram (ECG) as a precaution. A week later during the ECG test, doctors discovered that Lexi had a block that put her heart in extreme risk of failure. Lexi raced to Melbourne for urgent surgery and now has a pacemaker.

Lexi Northcott hiking with rock cliff behind
Credit: Apple | Lexi Northcott says: “pay attention to your smartwatch’s notifications!”

Lexi says she feels “better than ever and safer because of her Apple Watch.” Lexi’s Mum acknowledged that it was the Apple Watch’s notifications that led her to ask the doctor about it in the first place, and believes it saved Lexi’s life.

Watch Lexi’s story here

How to set up Apple safety features

What’s interesting about both stories is that, when I asked, Bruce and Lexi were not aware of the specific features that would eventually help them. Thankfully, Fall Detection and Low Heart Rate notifications were configured by default, and it’s scary to think what might have happened if they were not enabled.

For those that may not be up to speed about what their Watches and iPhones can do to protect them, or how to check their feature’s settings, Apple has provided us with some handy tips:

Activate Apple Watch Cellular Plan

  • With a cellular connection on Apple Watch, you can head out with just your Apple Watch, and stay in touch with loved ones, stream your favourite music playlists and podcasts, and in an emergency, get help
  • You can activate a cellular plan when you first set up your Apple Watch or set up in the Apple Watch app
  • In Australia, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone offer cellular plans for Apple Watch 
  • Set up instructions HERE

Medical ID

  • A Medical ID provides information about you that may be important in an emergency, like allergies, medical conditions, and your emergency contacts
  • Your iPhone and Apple Watch can display this information so that it’s available for someone attending to you in an emergency and your emergency contacts can be notified if you use Emergency SOS via satellite
  • After an emergency call ends, your iPhone or Apple Watch alerts your emergency contacts with a text message, unless you choose to cancel. Your iPhone sends your current location (if available) and—for a period of time after you enter SOS mode—your emergency contacts receive updates when your location changes
  • Set up instructions HERE

Emergency SOS

  • With Emergency SOS, you can quickly and easily call for help and alert your emergency contacts from your iPhone or Apple Watch
  • When you make a call with Emergency SOS, your Apple Watch automatically calls local emergency services and shares your location with them
  • Emergency SOS requires a mobile connection or Wi-Fi calling with an internet connection from your Apple Watch or nearby iPhone
  • Instructions on how to activate, change how to call, and international emergency calling info for iPhone HERE & Apple Watch HERE

Emergency SOS via satellite

  • With iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro, you can use Emergency SOS via satellite to text emergency services when you’re off the grid with no mobile and Wi-Fi coverage
  • If your iPhone or Apple Watch detects a severe car crash or a hard fall and you’re unresponsive, an automatic Crash Detection or Fall Detection notification to emergency services may be communicated by your iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, iPhone 15 or iPhone 15 Pro using Emergency SOS via satellite if you’re outside of mobile and Wi-Fi coverage
  • Try the Emergency SOS via satellite demo HERE
  • Instructions HERE

Fall Detection 

  • If Apple Watch detects a hard fall, it can help connect you to the emergency services if needed
  • If your Apple Watch detects that you’re moving, it will wait for you to respond to the alert and won’t automatically call the emergency services. If your watch detects that you’ve been immobile for about a minute, it will make the call automatically
  • If you entered your age when you set up your Apple Watch, or in the Health app, and you’re aged 55 or over, this feature will be turned on automatically. You can also turn on Fall Detection during workouts only

Instructions HERE

Crash Detection

  • If your iPhone or Apple Watch detects a severe car crash, your device can help connect you to emergency services
  • Crash Detection is designed to detect severe car crashes — such as front-impact, side-impact and rear-end collisions, and rollovers — involving sedans, minivans, SUVs, utes and other passenger cars
  • When a severe car crash is detected, an alarm will sound and an alert will be displayed on your iPhone or Apple Watch 
  • You can choose to call emergency services or dismiss the alert. If you’re unable to respond, your device automatically calls emergency services after a 20-second delay.
  • Instructions HERE

Low and High Heart Rate Notifications

  • If your heart rate remains above or below a chosen beats per minute (BPM), your Apple Watch can notify you. These notifications are available only on Apple Watch Series 1 or later for ages 13 and up
  • You can turn on heart rate notifications when you first open the Heart Rate app on your Apple Watch, or at any time later from your iPhone

Instructions HERE

Irregular Rhythm Notification

  • The irregular rhythm notification feature on your Apple Watch will occasionally look at your heartbeat to check for an irregular rhythm that might be suggestive of atrial fibrillation (AFib) 
  • Instructions HERE


  • You can take an electrocardiogram (ECG) with the ECG app on Apple Watch  
  • The ECG app can record your heartbeat and rhythm using the electrical heart sensor (Digital Crown) on Apple Watch Series 4 or later and all models of Apple Watch Ultra, and then check the recording for atrial fibrillation (AFib), a form of irregular rhythm
  • The ECG waveform, its associated classifications, and any noted symptoms will be saved in the Health app on your iPhone or iPad. You can also share a PDF with your doctor
  • Instructions HERE

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