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 Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A standardized language-independent way to identify a next-of-kin (or other emergency contact) in a mobile handset's directory, in case of an emergency, has been adopted as a new clause in ITU-T Recommendation E.123.

Emergency rescue workers searching for contact information for the next-of-kin to an injured person have had no globally understood way of identifying that person's details.

The directory of the injured person's mobile handset is typically used, since it usually contains the names and numbers of next-of-kin. However, without a standard way to distinguish these contacts from all other entries in the directory it is difficult for emergency workers to identify who to call.

A system does exist but works only for readers of latin scripts. In 2005, an English ambulance paramedic, Bob Brotchie, proposed a world-wide introduction of an easy-to-find listing of phone numbers to be called "In Case of Emergency" (ICE) in the mobile phones of victims of accidents etc.

ICE spread across Europe from the mid 2000's and started to grow into North America. In a very short time ICE became a standard phrase used by safety advice agencies and emergency services all over the English-speaking world. The United Nations issued a guidance note to its entire staff making them aware of the programme.

Even though very useful, the acronym ICE is specific to the English language, and the letters ICE is of no use to people who can not recognize letters in the Latin script.

ITU believes that international standards must be useable by anyone, regardless of language or script, and has thus taken one step further by approving the standardized language-independent version of ICE using Arabic numerals (the digits 0 through 9) instead, since they are known by all users around the world.

The new clause in Recommendation E.123 proposes to store emergency contact numbers in the form "0nx", where "n" is a digit from 1 through 9 and "x" is any meaningful descriptive character string in any language or script (e.g. "Anna" or "Spouse"). In the handset's directory this would be displayed as "01Anna" or "01Spouse" enabling easy identification by the emergency services.