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In case of emergency, put your cell on ICE

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A movement is underway to turn the ubiquitous cellphone into a source of information for paramedics and other emergency personnel who respond to accidents, crimes and disasters.

A British paramedic came up with the idea of asking cellphone users to add an entry into their cellular phone book called ICE for "in case of emergency." Accompanying that acronym would be the name and phone numbers of the person who should be called if something has happened to the owner of the phone.

The ICE campaign was launched in Britain in April, but people really started paying attention after the London terrorist bombings in July that killed 56 and injured hundreds.

Bob Brotchie, a Cambridge-based paramedic for 13 years, says he has responded to many accidents in which the injured person carried no information about next of kin or emergency contacts. This makes it difficult for paramedics because they don't know the patient's medical history or possible allergies, he says.

The British campaign, initially promoted in conjunction with Vodafone's annual Life Savers Awards, is "going phenomenally well," Brotchie says. Vodaphone is a British mobile phone company.

Now paramedics in the USA want to encourage Americans to use ICE. "I certainly think it can help," says Matthew Levy of the International Association of EMTs and Paramedics. "(We are) hoping we can get people excited."

Joe Farren of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association-Wireless Network says the industry is interested in joining the campaign.

And word is spreading in the USA via news reports and word of mouth.

Linda Huntress of Meredith, N.H., received an e-mail about ICE that she forwarded to her friends and family. She programmed ICE into her phone, and she notes that the information is better than other forms of identification because women sometimes go out without a purse but take along a cellphone.

"Basically, we have cellphones so that we have a way to reach help," she says. "I would want my family to know what happened to me."

Farren says there are so many different U.S. service providers that one of the challenges is getting all the companies to promote use of the same acronym. If they don't, it will be confusing to those who need the number, he says.

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