Updated: Aug 17
If we’re completely honest, most of us pay scant attention to what we might do in an emergency when we’re traveling. Planning for a holiday is one thing – planning for the worst seems like tempting fate. The chances of needing a helping hand are slim, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Here’s what you should know about Iceland and its emergency services, just in case.
Iceland emergency number
In the UK, you call 999. In the US, it’s 911 (and also Antarctica – who knew?) Throughout most of Europe, including Iceland, that number is 112. Make a note of it, especially if you’re from a country that uses a different number. In an emergency, there’s a good chance you won’t be thinking straight, so writing it down somewhere or storing it in your phone is a good idea.
Dialing the number 112 will get you through to Iceland’s emergency response team. The dispatchers you reach handle calls for all the emergency services. That emergency can be on land, at sea or in the air. It doesn’t matter. Whether your incident requires help from the fire, police or ambulance service, they will listen to you and deploy the correct assistance. The same number enables you to access search and rescue teams. Whether you are reporting a crime, calling in an accident or even needing the help of child protection services, the number is the same, 112.
Iceland emergency app
Keeping it simple, the number is manned 24/7, 365 days a year. You can call the Iceland emergency number 112 from anywhere in the country on any telephone, whether it’s your mobile device or landline.
These days, there’s also an app you can download to your mobile phone or tablet. 112 Iceland, as it’s called, was launched in 2012 as a response to the growing number of visitors to Iceland and the consequent rise in accidents. It’s a collaboration between those behind the emergency hotline 112, ICE-SAR and the civic protection department of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police. They worked alongside Valitor and the IT company Stokkur to develop this potentially life-saving software.
Anyone can download it – just visit the safetravels.is website and follow the link.
How does the 112 app works?
Like phoning 112, this app can be used to call for help – all you need to do is press the red emergency button. The 112 app sends your GPS location by text message to the response center. You don’t need data; a simple phone connection is all that’s required. In fact, even if you don’t have a mobile signal, it’s still worth trying this option. Sometimes you might just get a fleeting signal for long enough for that connection to be made when the connection is dropping too often for a voice call to be made. Regardless, that’s the official advice from those at 112, so it would be unwise to ignore it.
The green check-in button
What the Iceland emergency app also has is the functionality to report you as safe. Press the green check-in button and report your GPS location to the authorities. The last five locations are stored, giving the emergency services a trail to follow if necessary. Imagine this scenario: you’ve gone hiking in one of Iceland’s remote valleys but the weather turns bad and you slip and break your ankle. The app can report your location or, if you’ve already checked in, can identify where you were last known to be. That makes the job of directing the emergency services easier as they can deploy a team that will have a better chance of finding you. It avoids wasting time and frees up that team more quickly so that they can help the next person.
Of course, it’s also good practice to inform someone of your plans. That could be someone back home or the owner of the guest house where you are staying. Though plans change and it’s great to be spontaneous, if you’re thinking of visiting somewhere off the beaten track, it doesn’t hurt to let someone else know. Making emergency plans might seem unnecessary, but in reality, you never know what’s around the corner.
What about really big disasters?
We all hope a major disaster doesn’t happen, especially while we’re traveling. But in a country where extreme weather and volcanic eruptions are a fact of life, the systems and procedures to implement a planned emergency response from the authorities are always in place. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management takes responsibility at the government level for coordination and support measures aimed at reducing risks to human life. They work closely with the Directorate of Health which oversees healthcare, and civil protection committees that offer a coordinated response to dangers and emergencies at the local level and the Red Cross.
Together, this combined emergency service ensures that citizens and tourists can enjoy Iceland’s beautiful landscape and return home afterward to share good memories. And we should all be grateful for that.