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Safety tip: How your smart speaker can help during an emergency

Your smart speaker can keep track of your schedule, tell you the weather and control your smart devices, but can also help out during an emergency. These features could be lifesaving for you, older or disabled loved ones living alone, or even college students on their own for the first time.

And like any device that listens, you need to make sure you’re also able to maintain control of your privacy. Tap or click here for five security settings you need to change on your smart speaker.

Let’s take a look at the ways your smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo, Google Nest and Apple HomePod, can assist you in an emergency. A word of wisdom: Set these features up now while you’re thinking about it, before you need to use them.

What emergency capabilities do smart speakers offer?

You may assume your smart speaker can call 911 for you during an emergency, but if you’re using an Amazon Echo, it can’t – at least not on its own. The only smart speakers that can call 911 are the Apple HomePod and Google Nest.

While your Echo may not be able to call 911, it can assist in other ways. Some smart speakers can be programmed to send alerts to loved ones through various apps, while others can call non-emergency numbers when you or a loved one needs help.

Each smart speaker has its own unique capabilities, so keep reading to see how yours can help.

Amazon Echo

Your Amazon Echo can be set up to assist in an emergency in a number of ways, but saying “Alexa, call 911” is not one of them. There are options to use extra equipment with your smart speaker to allow for 911 calls to be made through the speaker, and you can also set up your Echo to send alerts through third-party apps if and when there’s an emergency.

The emergency capabilities offered by your Echo include:

  • Send alerts using apps
  • Obtain assistance from non-emergency numbers with Alexa skills
  • Use external hardware like Amazon’s Echo Connect device (which was recently discontinued) to call 911 directly from a landline

If you want to set up your Echo to reach out to certain people during an emergency, it won’t take much work on your end.

To do this:

  • Make sure your Alexa has access to the contacts it needs.
  • Once it does, you should be able to simply say, “Alexa, call XYZ (name of person)” in an emergency.
  • Alexa can also be asked to call a specific number, other than 911, by saying, “Alexa, call (enter number).”

You can also opt to use an app to send alerts through your Echo device. To do this, you’ll need to download your preferred app. There are several options, including My SOS Family and Ask My Buddy, a personal alert network. Then, enable the skills to work with them.

To call 911 via your Echo, you’ll need to have a landline and you’ll need to get your hands on an Echo Connect. These devices were discontinued, so the only option to get one is through a third-party seller.

If you can find one or already have one you haven’t hooked up yet, the setup instructions are easy:

  • Plug in your Echo Connect near your phone jack
  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Toggle to Settings > Add Device > Amazon Echo
  • Select Echo Connect and follow the instructions to finalize the setup

Google Home, AKA Google Nest

If you’re using a Google Home (now known as Google Nest) smart speaker, you’re in luck, because while the Nest wasn’t historically able to call 911 for you in emergencies, it can now assist in emergencies if you’re a Nest Aware subscriber. You can also use the Google Home app to quickly contact an emergency call center close to your home, even when you’re on vacation.

You’ll set up Emergency Calling when you first set up features for your Nest Aware subscription, so it may already be set up for you. If it’s not, here’s how you set it up:

  • Open the Google Home > Settings
  • Select Nest Aware > Emergency calling
  • Follow the instructions to complete setup, which usually takes about one minute to complete
  • Once setup is complete, you’ll need to return to the Emergency Calling screen in Settings to check your verification status

Your address needs to be verified in order for your 911 calls to be routed to the nearest call center. If it hasn’t been verified, go to this troubleshooting article for more help.

To call 911 via your Google Nest:

  • Simply say something like, “Okay Google, call 911” if you’re home
  • If you’re away, use the Nest Aware Home app to call 911 for services closest to your home

Apple HomePod

HomePod, Apple’s smart speaker, isn’t as common or as inexpensive as Amazon Echo and Google Nest devices, but if you’re using a HomePod, you use it to call 911 quickly and easily in an emergency. This speaker would be a good option for the tech-challenged or elderly, who may struggle to set up third-party apps or extra devices.

To call 911 via your HomePod, you simply:

  • Say, “Hey Siri, call 911,” or “Hey Siri, call emergency services”
  • Once you do, Siri will attempt to use the iPhone you’ve connected to the HomePod to complete the call
  • If your phone isn’t available, your 911 call will go through another iPhone on the same network to complete the call

But, while the option to quickly call 911 through your HomePod is handy, it’s also a bit pricey. You’ll pay $299 per HomePod for the newer devices, while the Echo, Echo Dot, and Google Nest will only run you between about $50 and $150 to purchase.

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