How to make a distress call in emergencies


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Often, ERDs work in risky situations and locations. You may be gathering evidence in a location where ecological or community rights violations have taken place, or you may be holding demonstrations or consultative meetings with affected communities. Security forces are likely to disrupt these activities and sometimes arrest the defenders. Company security personnel or hired goons may also attack and abduct defenders.

“We are trying to negotiate for the release of a local pastor from Bahi District in Dodoma, who was arrested and jailed for 6 months for opposing uranium prospecting in Bahi. The pastor was accused of inciting the local population and the District Commissioner ordered his arrest. In a country where court cases can take months or even years, the pastor was jailed within two weeks of his arrest which makes this action very unusual.” – Anonymous Human Rights Defender, Tanzania

In the event of such incidences, defenders need a discreet and rapid means of alerting their peers and family that they are under attack or they have been arrested. Mobile phone based solutions are the best for these situations, since virtually all ERDs have phones which they carry with them to these locations. A solution like the Panic Button, developed by a collective led by Amnesty International, would be an important addition to the digital security measures that ERDs should consider.

Sending distress calls using Panic Button

Panic Button sends selected partners, friends or family a message informing them that you are in danger. Panic Button can also be set up such that when it is activated, it will send periodic location maps to the people you have selected as long as your phone is on, thereby allowing them to track you. Here are some tips on using Panic Button. Remember Panic Button is a useful tool to alert your network quickly and discretely in an emergency. It is not a fail-safe security tool!

  • To use panic button effectively, you need to select an emergency response team of 3 of your most trusted partners. Panic Button aims to send your emergency message/s to your trusted contacts when you need help. However, the app is not able to guarantee a response. Think carefully when choosing your trusted contacts and always talk to them first to ensure you have a response plan in place.
  • Panic Button works only with Android phones. You should be able to use Panic Button on Android versions 2.3.3 to 4.4.2.
  • To send an emergency alert, you only need to tap rapidly on your power button. For the alert to be sent, you must have battery and phone credit/units.
  • Only use Panic Button if you have independent access to your phone. This prevents false alarms and also misuse, such as partners or family members using the app to track you without your knowledge. So make sure that you are the only one who has access to your phone.
  • When using Panic Button, you have to be careful not to put yourself and your emergency response partners in danger. If your country is known to practise mass telecommunications monitoring and interception, then you should think seriously about whether using Panic Button will reveal information about your location and trusted contacts that could put you or them at increased risk.

You can download the app from the Panic Button website, where you will also find more information about how you can use it.