How to use Siri Shortcuts to Make an Emergency Button

Siri Shortcuts Icon

Every September, Apple gifts us with a new version of iOS with exciting new features, optimizations, and new devices to run them on. This year, iOS 12 took a heavy focus on optimizations to make new and old devices run faster, and a new way to automate tasks on your devices – Siri Shortcuts. Anyone familiar with Automator, IFTTT, or Zapier will recognize the power brought by Apples newest app, but for those who are new to automation, or don’t quite know how to make it useful for you, I’ve decided to share some tips and my multi-functional Emergency Button Shortcut with you. 

For starters, it’s important to note that while Siri Shortcuts is advertised with iOS 12, it is actually an additional download from the App Store, so make sure to grab it before we begin (Siri Shorcuts on the App Store).

 
 

Upon opening Siri Shortcuts, you’ll be presented with a library of Shortcuts, which are essentially buttons that run sets of Actions to perform various functions on your device. Some of the defaults include buttons that turn Live Photo’s or Videos into Gifs, Tweet your currently playing song, and even edit the text in your clipboard. The Gallery tab at the bottom right has more premade options for you to browse, but to start, let’s take a look at one of the premade shortcuts to understand how one is made.

Understanding Actions

 
 

Let’s take a peek at one of the simpler default Shortcuts – Adjust Clipboard (if you don’t have it by default, grab it from the Gallery, now). Tap the More (•••) button to open up the Shortcut, and you’ll be presented with the following Action list:

  1. Get Clipboard – This action gets the contents of your clipboard for you to pass into other actions.

  2. Ask for Input – This action presents a window with an editable text field. The text field can be passed content from previous actions, for which this one is set to get the contents of your current Clipboard.

  3. Copy to Clipboard – This action passes the input material to the contents of your clipboard.

  4. Exit the Shortcut – A common, although not-always-necessary way to end a Shortcut.

You can see this Shortcut in action by pressing the play button at the top, which will also highlight each action in the background as it’s executed.

Get-then-Pass: Remember to always get (query) information that you will need to pass into actions later.

Many useful Shortcuts are short and simple like this, but understanding which Actions to select in order to achieve the desired effect takes some trial and error, and often times there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Luckily, Apple has seen fit to include Info buttons for each Action to describe their usage/function in more detail.


Creating An Emergency Button

 
 

So now that you’ve seen a simple Shortcut in action, let’s go back to the Library screen and recreate my custom Emergency Button.

In the top right corner of the Library page, press the + button to create a new Shortcut. This brings you to the New Shortcut page, with a blank Action list, some search functionality to find Actions, and some settings at the top.

To understand fully what we’re going to build, I’ll explain my goals when I created this Shortcut:

  • Quickly call my local emergency number

  • Send my location to emergency services

  • Record and send video of the incident to emergency services

Each of these sub-tasks has a few Actions required in order to properly execute them, so let’s setup the overall Shortcut, then break them into pieces and solve them one-by-one.

General Setup

Because this function should only be used in emergencies, it was important to make sure that it wouldn’t accidentally be triggered. In order to add this extra step, the first Action we will add is called the Choose from Menu Action. This Action allows us to prompt the user for a response before continuing.

 
 

Start by using the search bar at the bottom of your blank Shortcut to find Choose from Menu, then Add (+) to add it to the Shortcut.

Next, you’ll want to add at least one item/option. Let’s start with “This is an Emergency”. There will always be a default “Cancel” option shown, so no need to add it manually. What you’ll end up with is a Shortcut split into two routes – one that proceeds with the rest of the shortcut, and one that cancels it.

Make sure that for the rest of the Actions, you place them under Choose from Menu, but above End Menu.

Calling Your Emergency Number

The next part of this Shortcut is the call function. In my area (and most of the US), that number is 911. For testing purposes, you may want to use a secondary phone number that you have access to.

 
 

Let’s search for the Call Action. This Action behaves differently depending on how you use it, so if you run it on its own, it will open a dial pad for you to type a number to call, but if you pass it a number, it will call the number that was passed instead. Since we already know we want to call emergency services, let’s search Actions for Text, add it, type the number we want to call, and then move it above the Call Action.

Send Location to Emergency Services

Now that the call Action is setup, let’s move onto the second task – sending your location to emergency services. It’s important to note that not all emergency services locations support this functionality, so be sure to check out your location on the FCC Consumer Guide page before proceeding with this section. Assuming you’re good to go with Text-to-911 services in your area, let’s get started on section two.

 
 

Following our process of Get-then-Pass, let’s start by getting the current location of the device. Search for Get Current Location and add it. The resulting data of the current location doesn’t translate into a human-readable result, so we’ll want to also add the Gets Maps URL Action, which takes the current location and translates it into a URL of a map location that can be easily shared.

Now, search for Send Message, and add it; you’ll want to adjust a few of its settings to make sure it works as desired. Firstly, since you want this function to run as quickly as possible, uncheck the Show When Run option – this will allow it to run in the background while you are on the phone with emergency services. Next, add your local emergency number as a recipient; if you use 911, you’ll get a warning asking if you’re sure you want to use this number – this happens because it’s not a full 10-digit number, so confirm and proceed. In the body section of the message Action, import the variable for the Maps URL by tapping it from the keyboard shortcut. I’ve also included descriptive text “Please send help to my current location:” before the Maps URL).

Record & Send Video of Incident

The final function we want to setup in this Shortcut is to record and send video of the incident to emergency services; if you’ve ever been in an emergency situation where you “can’t believe I didn’t think to pull out my camera sooner”, this Action is for you. As with the Action above, if your local emergency services don’t support Text-to-911, then this function won’t be relevant to you.

Before we start adding this, it’s important to mention that because this function uses the full screen video camera to record video, it will not launch automatically while the phone screen is active. If you can remember to press home/swipe up to go to your iOS homepage after you start the emergency call, then this function will immediately pop up for you to start recording. Otherwise, it won’t pop up until you hang up the phone call.

 
 

The first Action you’ll want to search for is Take Video. After adding it, I set the Quality selector to High, so I could make sure to get the best emergency video possible. Note that this will make it take longer to send after recording, but by adding the Save to Photo Album Action, you can make sure to have it saved to your phone for evidence later as well.

Lastly, add the Send Message Action again. I chose to have this run in the background again by turning off Show When Run so I’m not looking at my phone too much in an emergency situation. With this Action, it will automatically take passed content from the camera to the message, so you do not need to manually add any variables (I just added some descriptive text “Here is a video of the incident:”).

Additional Settings

Now that all of the Actions are fully setup, you can make changes to additional settings for the Shortcut.

 
 

Start by pressing the toggle icon in the top right corner of the Shortcut screen, and you’ll see the options above. One of the coolest parts of Siri Shortcuts, is the ability to activate Shortcuts right from Siri – use Siri Phrase to set a voice trigger to run a Shortcut (I set it up to trigger when I say “Hey Siri, Get Help”). If you use widgets in Notification Center, you can add the emergency button there for quick access, and even add it to your Home Screen for the easiest possible access.

 
 

If you plan on sharing your creation with anyone, you can also setup Import Questions, which walks anyone who downloads the Shortcut through inputting the proper information into the variables; in our Shortcut, those variables are the Emergency Services Number for the Call and Text functions.


And that’s it! You’ve created a multi-functional Emergency Button, that you’ll hopefully never have to use.

*Note: This instruction guide is for Educational Purposes ONLY. In an emergency, you should call your local emergency number immediately. Please use this Shortcut responsibly!