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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

'ICE' hastens contact to loved ones in emergency

BY MEGAN GREENWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Bob Brotchie thinks ICE can save your life - just put it in your cell phone.

For Mr. Brotchie, a paramedic in Norwich, England, the letters I-C-E refer not to a way to keep cool during this hot summer, but to a quick way for police and medical personnel to contact loved ones after an emergency.

The concept he developed, which is beginning to spread globally through e-mail messages and public service announcements, is simple: program ICE - for "In Case of Emergency" into your cell phone with the number of the person you would like to be contacted.

"When you've got an ambulance crew or fire brigade, they need to contact next of kin," said Trisha Harvey, a spokesman for the East Anglian Ambulance Service in Norwich, which is promoting the ICE campaign. "This enables them to ring di-rectly and save a lot of time tracing people."

The ambulance service staff began promoting the ICE concept last April, when Mr. Brotchie grew frustrated by 13 years of paramedic work that often included frantic searches for family members. The campaign began to gain momentum in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in London earlier this month.

Several fire departments around the United Kingdom and the United States have officially declared support for the project as well as plans to launch public service announcements.

A survey last spring by Vodafone, a British cell phone service and the largest wireless provider in the world, revealed that nearly 80 percent of British citizens do not carry next-of-kin information in their wallets or cell phones.

In the United States, where 62 percent of Americans use cell phones, according to Scarborough Research, an American consumer reporting firm, the Department of Homeland Security is looking into the campaign and providing information to state agencies.

Cathy Collins-Taylor, readiness branch chief for Ohio's homeland security office said she first learned about the initiative through a Web site run by the federal government for emergency administrators.

Ms. Collins-Taylor said she would continue to research the idea, adding that it would be "a priority, but not very high on the list" for her department. She said she was enthusiastic about the potential benefits from a program that would require no legislation nor any money.

Other emergency management personnel in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan contacted yesterday said they had not heard of the ICE campaign, but expressed interest in the idea.

Gary Orlow, manager of Lucas County Emergency Medical Services, summed up a common reaction: "The concept has great merit," he said.

"It would take much more research to determine how feasible it really is," Mr. Orlow said.

Making the ICE campaign work on a large scale would require more than simply asking family members to program an emergency number into their cell phones, emergency personnel said.

The primary question is who would be responsible for checking cell phones and calling emergency contacts.

Toledo Fire Capt. Tom Jaksetic said that scrolling through a victim's cell phone would likely not happen at the scene of an emergency, contrary to Mr. Brotchie's design.

"We're going to address the [medical] problem at the scene and think about notifying people more at the hospital," he said of emergency medical personnel.

In fact, Toledo Fire and Rescue policy currently prohibits its employees from using cell phones on the scene or on the way to an emergency run.

Captain Jaksetic said that if the department were to officially endorse the ICE program, the rule would need to be modified.

"I don't think it's the first responder's job to notify someone's wife that they've been injured because they don't have the time to do that," added Bill Halsey, director of Lucas County's Emergency Management Agency.

Additionally, a successful ICE campaign would require a large-scale education effort. Only if enough people participated would it be worthwhile for emergency responders to search for a victim's cell phone and check its menu to see if it were programmed with an ICE contact number.

Some county and state officials said the high cost of such an education campaign could be prohibitive.

"Usually we don't have the money to get the good air time," said Susan Barthels, director of the Michigan Emergency Management Association, speaking of a TV or radio campaign.

"Most people are not watching or listening, and it hasn't worked well for us in the past," she said.

For the moment, area emergency officials are looking to administrators on the state and national levels to make the next move.

Although several expressed concerns about how the program would work, they all said they were optimistic.

"The idea of being able to provide emergency contact information to first responders is terrific," said C.J. Couch, spokesman for Ohio's Emergency Management Agency. "This is a 21st century version of carrying around a contact card in your wallet or a wearing medical alert bracelet."

Contact Megan Greenwell at:

mgreenwell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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