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ICE number

noun [countable]

In Case of Emergency number: an emergency contact number stored in the address book of a mobile phone

'The growing practice of entering an ICE number has been encouraged by emergency responders as an easy, simple-to-implement tool in rapidly identifying and assisting those needing emergency care.'

Grand Forks Herald 6th August 2005

'West Australians are being urged to store an emergency contact number in their mobile phones to assist authorities in the event of a disaster or accident … The "In Case of Emergency" (ICE) number would allow police and rescue workers to quickly alert family members if someone had been involved in a serious accident.'

Melbourne Herald Sun 29th July 2005

if all mobile phone users carried an ICE number … paramedics and emergency services would have a straightforward way of ascertaining their identity and any vital personal information by talking to a nominated person

In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in London on July 7th 2005, a new term hit the spotlight, its path to recognition in part assisted by widespread e-mail circulation across the globe: the ICE number. ICE stands for In Case of Emergency. An ICE number is therefore the telephone number of a friend or relative who should be contacted in an emergency situation. The number can be identified in a mobile phone address book by the prefix ICE, as in for example ICE Mum, ICE Chris, etc.

If all mobile phone users carried an ICE number, should they be victims of an accident, paramedics and emergency services would have a straightforward way of ascertaining their identity and any vital personal information by talking to a nominated person. Phone users could have more than one ICE number, storing them in priority order as ICE1, ICE2, ICE3, etc.

Background – ICE number

The ICE number is the brainchild of British paramedic Bob Brotchie, employed by the East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust. In the course of his experience, Brothchie had discovered that, though the majority of accident victims carry no next of kin details, over 80% carry a mobile phone. Reflecting on some difficult situations he had dealt with, where victims were unable to speak through injury, it occurred to him that a uniform approach for identifying an emergency contact on a mobile phone would make life easier for everyone. As well as the quick identification of a contact, emergency services could be sure that the number related to a person who the accident victim would want to be contacted in such a situation, someone who could for instance give consent for emergency treatment or provide vital information about an individual's medical history.

In April 2005, Brotchie launched a campaign to promote the concept of ICE numbers, backed by mobile phone company Vodafone and endorsed by Falklands War veteran Simon Weston. It wasn't until the more recent terrorist attacks in London however, that the idea of ICE numbers really began to take off, rapidly spreading across to the USA, Australia, and throughout the world. Global exposure of the concept occurred practically overnight, with international media coverage and a large-scale e-mail campaign helping to spread the word.

Mobile phone companies are now being encouraged to build an ICE contact as a standard address book feature on future models of mobile phones.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 8th August 2005.

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