The Mollie Tibbetts tragedy that is unfolding today hits especially hard if you're a parent. As the father of a young girl, I cannot begin to comprehend the pain that Mollie Tibbetts's parents are going through. 

Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the story that's currently being reported is that Mollie had her cell phone in hand and threatened to call the police as her accused attacker approached her. That image haunts me.

We will likely never know exactly why Mollie was unable to call the police. And I'm in no position to even speculate. All I can do is send up a silent prayer for her and her loved ones.

However, what I can do is make sure that as many iPhone owners as possible are at least aware of a potentially lifesaving SOS feature that, unfortunately, few iPhone owners know about, and which allows you to summon emergency services to your location without dialing a phone number or even looking at your phone. In asking friends and family about the SOS feature, I was amazed at how few people are even aware it exists.

Simply put, you can call 911, send your geolocation, and notify family or friends without ever actually dialing. All you need to do is one of the following:

  • Press the power button on your iPhone in rapid succession five times and then slide the SOS bar across the screen (you can set this up so that it does not require you to also use the slider, see here for instructions)
  • Press and hold the Power button and one of the volume keys continuously

Be sure to read all of the instructions, adjust your SOS settings, and test this out to make sure it works as you expect it to. For example, despite what Apple's support page says, on my iPhone 8 the only option that works is to press the power button five times.

See the full description and how to set up your iPhone on Apple's site.

Similar features are provided on some Android phones, such as the  Samsung Galaxy.

According to Apple:

Here's how to make the call on iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus: 

  1. Press and hold the side button and one of the Volume buttons until the Emergency SOS slider appears. 
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and Volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds. If you hold down the buttons until the countdown ends, your iPhone automatically calls emergency services.

Here's how to make the call on iPhone 7 or earlier: 

  1. Rapidly press the side button five times. The Emergency SOS slider will appear. (In India, you only need to press the button three times, then your iPhone automatically calls emergency services.) 
  2. Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services.

After the call ends, your iPhone sends your Emergency contacts a text message with your current location, unless you choose to cancel. If Location Services is off, it will temporarily turn on.

If your location changes, your contacts will get an update, and you'll get a notification about 10 minutes later. To stop the updates, tap the status bar and select "Stop Sharing Emergency Location." If you keep sharing, you'll get a reminder to stop every four hours for 24 hours.

At a time when we hear the constant din of how technology is making us less safe by revealing our privacy it's important to acknowledge that it has also provided the tools with which to make the world safer. In the end, the best we can hope for is that the latter exceeds the former.

Please learn how to use this potentially lifesaving feature and teach your kids to use it as well; do it today.