ICE phone numbers help identify victims in medical emergencies

Elizabeth Cook

Now cell phones can help in emergency situations by providing important contacts to emergency workers.

In 2003, nearly 900,000 emergency victims in the United States weren’t able to provide contact information to emergency workers, according to a Qwest Communications news release. In case of emergency numbers, or “ICE numbers,” as they are commonly known, are used when a person is unable to provide emergency personnel with personal information.

Joanna Hjelmeland, a spokeswoman for Qwest, said the idea was started in England only a few years ago because paramedics were having trouble identifying people in emergency situations.

Entering ICE numbers into a cell phone is the same as adding a friend’s number, she said. The contact name is programmed as ICE, then a dash, then the title of the contact person rather than their name, and then the phone number.

Martin Van Buren, emergency medical services director for Hennepin County Medical Center, said ICE numbers are more helpful for hospital and medical examiners than ambulance workers.

Ambulance workers deal with the “life and death,” Van Buren said.

Paramedics are going to treat someone regardless of whether they know who they are and whom to contact, Van Buren said.

Van Buren said ICE numbers are helpful, and he has them in his cell phone.

“It’s just a way for people to know this is an important number for you to respond to,” Van Buren said.

Biology senior Kristen Richter said she had never heard of ICE numbers before, but thinks it’s a good idea.

“I would want my parents to know,” she said.

Joseph Clinton, professor and head of the department of emergency medicine at the University’s Medical School said he thinks ICE numbers are an excellent idea.

Identification is a significant problem in hospitals, Clinton said.

If someone comes to the hospital unconscious, their wallets are often gone through to find their identity.

“But it often doesn’t have emergency contacts,” Clinton said.

Ron Reier, Minneapolis police spokesman said he also has ICE numbers programmed in his cell phone and they are a helpful idea.

But Reier said there is a downside. If someone’s cell phone was stolen, all of their personal contact information would be taken away, Reier said.

Alex Jackson, deputy chief for the Minneapolis Fire Department, said he had never heard of ICE numbers, but likes the idea.

Jackson said it would help emergency personnel if the incident was one where they had time to look in a cell phone.

“It’s all depending on the type of emergency,” Jackson said. “We’re working to save a life.”

The fire department could benefit from such information because all firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians and respond to all 911 calls.

“Eighty percent of what we do is emergency medical services,” Jackson said.

First-year student Valerie Wenzel said she has family numbers programmed in her phone, but not under the name ICE, but thinks it could be helpful.

“For sure, I think it’s a really good idea,” she said.