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911ICE: A social network for the sick and wounded

You will be able to use your mobile phone as an electronic life buoy, if paramedic Bob Brotchie get his way.

Bob Brotchie, a paramedic with a mobile phone mission Rafe Needleman/CNET

In 2005, British paramedic Bob Brotchie launched an initiative to encourage people to put emergency contact information in their mobile phone address books, under the name "ICE," which stands for "In Case of Emergency." He hoped that when emergency workers reached a person who had become incapacitated, they would learn to look up the ICE number on the phone to connect to a person who could speak for the one in need.

The program has succeeded in the U.K. and Australia, and is gaining some traction in the U.S., Brotchie says. He was at the TechCrunc50 event this week pushing the ICE program's evolution: An online "waiting room" at 911ICE.org, where people who care about a sick or injured person can gather, communicate, and possibly learn how to help.

Brotchie is hoping that rather than programming in just one emergency contact, people will program in multiple emergency contacts into an online service. The ICE number that each phone has could be used to call up a service that does several things, starting with reading back medical alerts to the caller (or sending them as SMS). Then it will be able to contact the people on the emergency list, and connect at least one of the them to the caregiver. The ICE service could also, Brotchie envisions, contact all the people on the list, tell them what's going on, and invite them into a "virtual waiting room" where they can keep up to date on what's going on with the phone's owner.

The business model is "still under development," Brotchie told me, but this is still a good idea, from a person who has a bead on how families communicate in personal disasters, and on how the functionality of a mobile phone can be used as a form of electronic life buoy. Very clever.