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Alexa's new Emergency Assist could save your life and protect your peace of mind

With Amazon's new service, all you have to do to summon first responders in an emergency is say 'Alexa, call for help'.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Echo Show 8

Alexa Emergency Assist will be supported on every Echo device, from the oldest Echo speaker to the newest Echo Show 8 (pictured).

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

If you tell Alexa, "I'm scared," several times in a row, the virtual assistant will respond empathetically and tell you to call 911 in an emergency. But what if you or someone else at home needs help and you're not close to a phone? What about people who don't have a phone or kids who are too young to know your address?

Alexa's new feature named Emergency Assist can help. 

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This feature works similarly to Alexa Guard, which is being discontinued, though it's not a direct replacement. Emergency Assist is a 24/7 emergency response service that works for anyone with an Echo device at home, and it's compatible with all Echo speakers and Echo Shows. Saying "Alexa, call for help" will prompt the voice assistant to start a call with an agent who is capable of dispatching first responders to the caller's home.

As a mom who's currently teaching young kids what to do in an emergency, after having to call 911 twice within six months due to medical issues, this feature immediately had my attention. The potential benefit of having a system that can call first responders and direct them to your home -- and even tell them what room the emergency might be in if your device is named after its location in the home -- is immeasurable for us. 

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It could also be a game-changer for older people living alone who fall or otherwise have a medical event when their phone is out of reach.  

Alexa Emergency Assist being used

Asking Alexa to call for help without the Emergency Assist program would make the virtual assistant notify your emergency contact that you might need help. With Emergency Assist, Alexa will start a call to a trained agent from the device and will notify up to 25 predetermined emergency contacts that you've reached out to the Urgent Response team and then again when you hang up. 

The emergency response team will see any identifiable information you've entered into the Alexa app for these purposes, including your address and any applicable gate codes necessary to access your home. The emergency response team will then relay that information to first responders. Users can also enter any allergies to food or medication in the Alexa app, current medical concerns and diagnoses, and medication currently being taken. 

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Amazon is eliminating Alexa Guard and instead folding some of its features into the general Alexa experience, like Away Lighting, which turns smart lights on and off intermittently while you're away to make it look like you're home. Other Guard features, like Smoke and CO alarm detection, will be part of the Emergency Assist service, which will work as a subscription separate from Prime and Ring Protect Pro. 

Emergency Assist starts out on a limited-time offer of $5.99 a month or $59 a year and is currently available only in the U.S. After the limited-time offer ends in January, the price will increase for anyone without a Prime membership -- although Amazon hasn't stated how much. 

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Since Amazon is discontinuing Alexa Guard, it's giving a year of Alexa Emergency Assist to Ring Protect Pro and Ring Protect Plus customers who linked their Ring account to their Amazon account before September 20, 2023. These customers will be automatically enrolled into Emergency Assist at no extra cost until October 31, 2024. 

It's common for parents to avoid thinking of worst-case scenarios -- it's why we put off making a will and other end-of-life decisions when our children are young. But it's also important to consider what would happen to your kids if the only parent in the home at any given time became incapacitated. 

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This is one of those parenting fears instilled in me (thanks, Steel Magnolias), and the reason I am teaching my kids to call 911. But putting in place a system like Alexa Emergency Assist could literally be a life-saving decision.

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