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Emergency SOS via Satellite Saves Lives in Maui Fires

On the Service Formerly Known as Twitter, Michael J. Miraflor posted:

My brother’s girlfriend’s cousin and his family were caught in their vehicle in Maui while the wildfires suddenly erupted around them.

No cell service, so Apple Emergency SOS was the only way they could get in contact with first responders. Literally saved their lives.

I can’t even imagine what these 34 minutes of hell must have been like. Emergency SOS is magic (see “Testing Emergency SOS and Find My via Satellite,” 21 November 2022), but while the iPhone walks you through using it, doing so successfully while trapped in a van with fire all around would have been nerve-wracking. Two additional thoughts:

  • The iPhone user’s emergency contact must have been simultaneously horrified and relieved to receive this chat, presumably after it ended.
  • Particularly for younger people, the emergency services dispatcher typing in all caps might have been additionally stressful.

Regardless, kudos to Apple for developing Emergency SOS via satellite, to the iPhone 14 user for keeping a cool head under pressure, to the emergency services dispatchers, and to the actual fire department for making the rescue.

I hope stories like this encourage Apple to make the Emergency SOS via satellite feature usage-based in some way after its initial 2-year free period. No one would subscribe in advance because they expected to be caught in a wildfire in a historic Hawaiian beach town.

Emergency SOS via satellite conversation during Maui fires

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Comments About Emergency SOS via Satellite Saves Lives in Maui Fires

Notable Replies

  1. I have not had to use this for any life threatening situations. But, I have been using the feature in Find My to check-in my current location when my wife and I go camping and backpacking throughout Colorado and Wyoming. My family can at least see a location and time stamp for our status. Great feature.

  2. There have been stories on the Phoenix, AZ TV news stations about hikers that have used the SOS feature to get help when they developed problems; also I remember seeing a report of a skier that was rescued due to it.

  3. For those that don’t have the latest iPhones, the Garmin Inreach system has similar emergency features. It costs of course but seems worth the investment.

  4. How would billing work though?

    Thanks for using Emergency SOS for your emergency life-threatening situation. Here is your bill:
    Regards, Apple

    Somehow I don’t think the marketing/PR sides of Apple would think that a good way of dealing with it! :face_with_diagonal_mouth:

    I think more likely it’ll be either offered with higher storage tiers of iCloud+ (currently the 200GB or 2TB ones) as an incentive to subscribe and use their storage, and/or offered as an additional add-on for $1/month or part of an additional bundle of multiple things yet to be announced.

    After all, Apple presumably want to increase services revenues, don’t they? It’s just the fine line of how much they can keep asking consumers for, until it gets ridiculously expensive that enough people won’t pay, therefore meaning the services offering doesn’t work as a whole.

  5. How about like AppleCare+, where you pay a monthly fee, but if you break your iPhone, Apple fixes it for $99? Doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch for Apple to include such a thing in iCloud+.

    But even pure pay-as-you-go isn’t uncommon in emergency situations. Call for a helicopter rescue from a mountain and you could be paying thousands of dollars. Apple could simply add a dialog that says “This communication will generate a $99 charge. Do you want to continue?”

  6. That’s not the same thing though. A helicopter costs money to fly. People on that chopper are potentially risking their lives coming to rescue you. Apple OTOH is risking nothing (except perhaps what amounts to 0.00000001% of some mid level exec’s annual bonus). Their extra cost due to one extra call is near zero since they already set up the entire system at a certain much larger cost. The phone can already do it. Those $99 just buy you a software license to get help when in dire need.

    As always, software as a service just does not equate physical commodities, like say a sack of potatoes or that chopper to fly you out burning Lāhainā.

    Apple certainly could go that route. But if they do, I can guarantee you it will lead to public outrage and PR disaster the very first time some guy ends up a vegetable because he didn’t feel like forking over $99 to Apple for a “help thy neighbor in need” thing and declined the call. Moment that story breaks, the PR cost to Apple is going to orders of magnitude larger than those $99.

    I’m almost certain they will not be able to monetize it this way. Most likely is N years “for free” with an iPhone. After that it stays free for iCloud+ customers. Everybody else gets bupkis.

  7. Sure, but nearly all business models where there’s a massive upfront cost but a relatively low per-access cost are like that, including the cost of staffing and equipping a rescue team.

    To be clear, I don’t think this approach is likely either, which is why I led with the AppleCare+ / iCloud+ analogies.

    Perhaps, but again, my larger point is that I think Apple needs to make it so people can always use the service without having to set something up in advance. And there are multiple ways to do that.

  8. ^This. Directly charging for emergency service wouldn’t go down well in PR terms, despite Apple obviously being entitled to recover the large expense they pay for the system. When a few incidents of usage hits the general news media (“I was hanging off a cliff almost dying, and Apple wanted to charge me $99 to help me” breaking news shocker?!), they’d come out badly the other end.

    Yes, this seems more plausible as a possible idea they might do.

    Let’s face it, most people will never use the current emergency-only system unless they’re in dire need. You never know, they may in later years offer further enhancements for more non-emergency usage; though that sounds like it’d be a way off yet. It’ll be interesting how they go about it, so we’ll have to see. :slightly_smiling_face:

  9. I have the inReach Mini and the Recreation Freedom plan with annual contract. It is worth noting that the Freedom plan only covers communication services; Search and Rescue (SAR) services is a separate insurance plan that costs up to US$300 per year (as of August 2023).

    Also, depending on country and destination, one may be required to pay for emergency services first then seek reimbursement; for example, a helicopter evacuation in Nepal may require upfront payment of more than US$5,000 - expensive but well worth the cost during an emergency - and it will be tragic to let payment arrangements delay the rescue. This needs to work in conjunction with other arrangements such as medical evacuation back to the home country, which is covered by a separate travel insurance policy. It is worth engaging a reputable travel/expedition agency to sort the details out in advance before the trip.

    Perhaps this complicated arrangement is the reason why the Emergency SOS via satellite feature only works in certain countries.

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