My mom is pretty dang tech savvy for an 84-year-old. She has an iPhone 6, she texts, and she even has a Snapchat (although we made her promise not to sext!).
So, when she called me up in February and told me she had a new Amazon Echo and wanted to set it up, I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t gotten an Echo, but I had watched from the sidelines–reading everything I could about Amazon’s wonderful speaker with the AI assistant, Alexa, available, like a genie in a bottle, to grant your every wish. You can shop, listen to music, track your packages, and even control a smart home–why wouldn’t I be impressed?
A long time ago, my mother and I started sharing our Amazon Prime account, and so when I went to set up the Echo for her, it was a breeze. Almost immediately, I wondered, “If my mother fell or had an emergency, could she use Alexa to call for help?” I Googled the question, only to find that the new Alexa “skills” marketplace had no way to connect Alexa to 911 or any emergency services. Developers had complained saying that only Amazon engineers could install that capability.
So, I looked for another option. Yesterday, I started looking at recipes for Alexa in the very wonderful “If This Then That” app (IFTTT) on my iPhone. I discovered that there was a way to have Alexa call your phone–even an IFTTT recipe for that–but all it would do is call. It was good for finding your phone, but not much else.
What about texting? I couldn’t find a recipe to directly text, but I did find a recipe for an app I use a lot: GroupMe. GroupMe allows you to create a group of people you want to text. I have used it a lot with my classes to inform them when I am late, or when class is cancelled, or when we have an assignment coming up. I also have a group for family that I established years ago when my son was seriously ill in the hospital. It was PERFECT.
In the IFTTT app, I created the following recipe:
I set up the “Alexa” part of the recipe by first connecting the Alexa app on my phone to IFTTT (it’s painless, they just ask you for permission), then I chose “say a specific phrase” as the Alexa trigger. I set that phrase to be “emergency.”
For the GroupMe part of the recipe I already had a group set up, but if you don’t, first establish a group of family and/or friends that you would want to notify in an emergency on the GroupMe app on your phone. Then add GroupMe to the recipe. It will ask you which group to connect to. Select the group you established for the emergency notification.
Next it will ask what you want the message to say. I knew I wanted to test the recipe first to make sure it worked, so I put in “This is a test. I am setting up an emergency notification for Mom’s Alexa. If you see this message, it worked!”
Make sure you save the recipe before you test it. To test it, I called my mother and asked her to say, “Alexa trigger emergency.” She replied “Sending to IFTTT,” and I immediately received a text on my phone with the message I had typed.
I then went back into the IFTTT app and changed the message to read, “Someone at mom’s house has just indicated there is an emergency. Please call: (I added her house phone here). If there is no answer, please notify 911. Her address is: (I put in my mother’s address and zip code.)”
That’s it. Now we have an emergency notification set up and, as I said to my mother, “I hope we never need it.”