Most of us know where we’re going when we head out the front door. But what happens if you’re abruptly stopped mid-journey, stranded in an unknown location or involved in a serious accident?

Former police officer Evan Cobcroft, his partner, Belinda Nelson, and Evan’s children, Lachlan, 15, and Jessika, 12, had spent a glorious day picnicking in the dramatic, ancient wilderness of Barrington Tops National Park in September 2014. The park’s beauty made it a difficult place to leave, but as the afternoon drew to a close, the family reluctantly clambered into their car for the trip home.

They began to wind their way slowly down the steep, dirt mountain road. Coming around one of the bends, Evan pierced the leisurely, winding rhythm, yelling “Hang on, we’re going to hit …” Applying the brakes, the car slid out of a corner, hit a wall, rolled and landed on its roof.

Shaken and dazed, Belinda managed to free herself and then pull Jessika and Lachlan from the wreckage. But Evan remained trapped, hanging upside down. Darkness had set in and they realised they couldn’t get a mobile phone signal to call emergency services. No other cars had passed by for some time and no amount of hopeful eye straining could catch a glimmer of house lights in the distance.

Left with one option, Belinda stayed at the scene to help Evan while the children took Evan’s phone and ran until they finally picked up a phone signal about 2.5km away. They had no idea where they were. They only knew they were on an isolated dirt road somewhere near Barrington Tops. However, when the children called 000, they were able to read out the latitude and longitude of their position as displayed on the Emergency+ app on Evan’s phone. This enabled emergency services to pinpoint their location.

Having located the children and then Evan and Belinda, emergency services were able to free Evan. He was seriously injured, sustaining incomplete quadriplegia. The others were also beginning to notice their bumps and bruises: Lachlan had a black eye, Jessika had a bruised neck and Belinda had a bad lump on her head. Lachlan, Jessika and Belinda recovered from their injuries. Evan, through rehabilitation, has been able to walk again unaided and regain some upper body function but he has limits; he continues to experience some neurogenic problems. However, he doesn’t like to think of what might have happened if the Emergency+ app wasn’t at hand.

Fire & Rescue NSW and the Triple Zero Awareness Working Group—which is a national body of emergency call-taking agencies and their government and industry partners throughout Australia— developed the Emergency+ app. It can be used on smartphones and downloaded for free from iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store to iOS, Android and Windows devices, respectively.

Heidi Haydon, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia’s Education Officer, has run her eye over the app. “It’s great. The home screen is easy to navigate for a 000 emergency or SES. It’s also great that it’s got the non-emergency police option there, too,” Heidi says. “Given your location services are turned on, the locator coordinates are extremely accurate— it’s a relief to know you’d be located properly in an emergency.

“The ‘Info’ tab is fantastic, explaining what each call option should be used for. The fact that it also has alternatives like Crime Stoppers, Healthdirect and National Relay Service gives a broad choice for people needing help.”

Other emergency-related apps are also on the market, but the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department says people should be aware that not all of them can do what they claim and could delay emergency assistance.

Like all 000 emergencies, the Emergency+ app requires the user to call 000 and then read out their position so their location can be pinpointed. Evan, who now works as a civilian at Newcastle Radio Operations in the NSW Police Force, recommends everyone download the free Emergency+ app.

Download the Emergency+ app here

This story was written by Helen Borger and first published in the winter 2016 edition of Accord, a Spinal Cord Injuries Australia magazine.