Smart Home

5 ways your smart speaker can help you in an emergency

Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are here to help.

5 ways your smart speaker can—and can’t—help you in an emergency Credit: Getty / rclassenlayouts / Marco_Piunti

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Emergency situations are stressful enough—and in a panic, you might not think to rely on your smart speaker for assistance. However, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant might be able to help you when you need it most.

Here are five ways your smart speaker can help in emergencies, along with a few examples of what they can't do, so you can be as prepared as you need to be.

1. Get alerts during severe weather

Google Home Mini and lightning
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Using your smart speaker like the Google Home Mini (left), you can receive alerts when severe weather is nearby.

Each part of the U.S. has its own unique weather events. From hurricanes to fires to tornados, Alexa can help alert you in the event of a weather emergency when you enable the “AccuWeather” skill. In order to receive notifications when bad weather is headed your way, you must enable notifications on your Echo. To do so, open the Amazon Alexa app, navigate to Skills > Your Skills > AccuWeather > Manage Permissions. Now, Alexa will automatically let you know when dangerous weather is in your area by playing a tone and turning yellow.

AccuWeather alerts are also available for Google Assistant-enabled devices like the Google Home Mini or the Google Nest Hub Max.

2. Phone a friend or relative

Girl talking to Echo
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Google Home and Amazon Echo speakers can be used to make calls.

Smart speakers and gadgets can be a lifesaver in emergency situations. For example, in September, a Washington man fell off his bike and used his Apple Watch 4 (our favorite smartwatch) to call for help, according to CBS News. If something happens to you at home, you can call out to your Echo or Google Home speaker to call a friend or relative for help.

To set this feature up on your Echo, open the Amazon Alexa app and tap Communicate, a speech bubble icon at the bottom of your screen. This is where you will be prompted to add your mobile phone number in order to make calls using Alexa using your current contact list. Once you’re set up, you can call out to your Echo and say, "Alexa, call [name of contact].”

Google Home speakers can also make calls, but, just like the Echo, you need to set this up in advance. It only takes a minute—here's how you set it up: Open the Google Home app on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet and navigate to the Account icon in the lower right hand corner. Scroll down and select More Settings > Services > Voice & Video Calls > Mobile Calling.

Then, add your mobile number and hit verify. Within seconds, you should receive a text with a verification code to enter to complete the setup process. Make sure to test out the function on your Echo or Google Home speaker or display to ensure it's working properly before an emergency strikes.

While dialing a friend or family member for help, Google Home speakers and Amazon Echo and Echo Dot cannot natively dial 911 in the event of an emergency. However, when you add an Amazon Echo Connect that’s been connected with a landline to your Alexa account, you can call 911 by saying “Alexa, call [number]” including 911, according to an Amazon spokesperson.

3. Get basic medical advice

First aid google
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Google Assistant-enabled devices like the Nest Hub Max (right) and Amazon Echo speakers offer basic medical help, but it's always best to consult a doctor.

It’s always best to call the doctor when there’s a medical emergency, but if you have basic questions like, “How to treat a cut,” or you’re looking for “instructions for CPR,” Alexa or Google Assistant might be able to you.

Echo users can enable the “Mayo Clinic First Aid” Skill in the Amazon Alexa app. To get started, say, “Alexa, open Mayo First Aid.” From there, you'll be able to ask questions like, "How do I treat my baby's fever?" or, "How to treat a cut?"

Google Home users also have access to information from the Mayo Clinic when they say, "Hey Google, talk to Mayo First Aid.” You can say things like, “Talk to Mayo First Aid about eye cut signs,” or, “Talk to Mayo First Aid and tell me about spider bites.”

However, Google Assistant and Alexa cannot diagnose a medical problem or treat you for an injury. If you're facing a life-threatening medical problem, you should seek help right away from a medical professional.

4. Alert someone if you’ve fallen down

Amazon Echo and woman on the ground
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The "Ask My Buddy" skill for Alexa-enabled devices can call for help if you're unable to get to the phone.

“Ask My Buddy” is a popular Alexa skill rated 4.5 stars out of 642 reviews. The skill recognizes your voice specifically and can be used to send alerts and messages when you need help (like if you’ve fallen down and can’t get up) but you’ll need to set up your Personal Alert Network within the Amazon Alexa app before you can use it.

In case of an emergency, it’s best to allow the skill to access your address and turn on location services, which you’ll be prompted to turn on or off when you enable the “Ask My Buddy” skill during set up. The next step is to create an account with Ask My Buddy to sync with Alexa.

You can add up to three mobile lines to the skill that can be used to call one of your preferred contacts if you’re injured or need help. To alert your contacts, say, “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to alert [contact first name],” or, “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to tell everyone I’m OK.” The “Ask My Buddy” action is currently unavailable with Google Assistant.

The “Ask My Buddy” skill may come in handy if you’re away from your phone and need to alert someone for help. However, unless you have the Echo Connect, Alexa and Google Assistant are unable to call an ambulance or emergency responders to your home.

5. Help scare off intruders

Google Home and intruder
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The "Burglar Deterrent" skill is available for Alexa and Google-enabled speakers.

The U.S. Department of Justice found that there were roughly 13.5 million property victimizations to American homes in 2018, including burglaries, residential trespassing, motor-vehicle thefts, and other thefts. You might already have an outdoor security camera or an indoor security camera, to help keep your home safe, but did you know your smart speaker can assist, too?

For Echo speakers, the "Burglar Deterrent" skill plays realistic audio sounds like voices and dogs barking to help discourage someone from breaking into your home. After enabling the skill in the Amazon Alexa app, you can try it out by saying things like, "Alexa, ask Burglar Deterrent for a barking dog," to scare off burglars or make it seem like you’re home with commands like, "Alexa, tell Burglar Deterrent to simulate the home office," or, "Alexa, ask Burglar Deterrent to sound like the dining area.” The sounds will play on a loop until you say, "Alexa, stop."

Burglar Deterrent is also available on Google Assistant-enabled speakers like the Google Home Mini or Google Nest Hub Max. To play sounds, ask Google Assistant, "Speak to Burglar Deterrent and play garage sounds," or, "Ask Burglar Deterrent to play bathroom sounds." This action works similarly to the "Burglar Deterrent" skill for Echo speakers and will continue to play until you tell it to stop.

The loud sounds may be enough to scare off burglars, but it will not call authorities. If someone is breaking into your home, call the police immediately.

Remember that your Echo and Google Home speakers can help in times of emergencies, but they are not a replacement for seeing a doctor or calling first responders if a crisis arises.