You probably change your phone’s volume multiple times per day. When you’re at work, having your phone on silent ensures it doesn’t embarrass you at meetings. At home, though, you might have your volume at maximum so you don’t miss an important call from a family member.
Despite all this, emergencies happen, and it’s scary to think that a loved one could be trying to get ahold of you while your phone sits silently in your pocket. Thankfully, it’s not hard to set up your device so that trusted contacts can break through silent mode.
Here’s how to make sure the most important people in your life can reach you in emergencies, no matter what volume your phone is on.
Using Android’s Built-in Tools
In the old days of Android, you had to use different apps to bypass silent mode. Now, Android can do it all on its own.
Understanding Do Not Disturb
In Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google made confusing changes to silent mode that required you to manually set up your own silent profile. Thankfully, in Android 6.0 Marshmallow and above, Google has restored proper silent mode. It’s now called Do Not Disturb, and with a bit of setup, you can make it smart.
To quickly enable Do Not Disturb, just hold the Volume Down button on your phone. When your volume is at zero, Vibrate Only mode is active. Press Volume Down one more time to enable Do Not Disturb (DnD) — it’s represented by a circle with a line through it on your notification bar. This sets DnD to Alarms Only, but there are two other DnD profiles you can use.
Swipe down on your notification bar twice to access the Quick Settings panel, then tap on the Do Not Disturb entry. Here, you’ll have three options:
- Total silence completely mutes your phone. You won’t hear incoming phone calls, apps won’t make a sound, and alarms won’t trigger.
- Alarms only is the default mode, and acts like the classic silent mode. Your phone won’t make any sounds for incoming calls or notifications, but apps, games, and alarms will make noise.
- Priority Only mutes all sounds except from those you specify as priority. Alarms, reminders, and events still play sounds.
No matter which of these options you choose, you can choose Until you turn this off to activate the mode indefinitely, or use the plus and minus buttons to select a certain amount of time on the bottom option. This is a great choice for meetings or other specified amounts of time when you need to shut up your phone.
Setting Up Priority Notifications and Contacts
We’re interested in the Priority Only option for our purposes. To tweak it, tap More Settings at the bottom of the Do Not Disturb panel we just visited, or go to Settings > Sound > Do not Disturb. Tap Priority only allows to decide what’s most important.
You can turn off notifications for Reminders and Events if you don’t consider those priority. Select Messages (and/or Calls) to pick from one of four groups — From anyone, From contacts only, From starred contacts only, and None. Notifying you of texts from anyone isn’t much of a silent mode, so choose From starred contacts only here.
Now that we’ve done this, we need to star some contacts. Open up your Contacts app and search for someone you want to star. Tap their name, then tap the star icon in the upper-right corner of their contact page. Setting a contact as starred not only allows them through Priority Only mode, but also shows them first in your Contacts and Phone apps.
Once this is complete, make sure to enable DnD in Priority Only mode whenever you want to go silent. You can rest assured that any texts (or calls, if you chose) from your starred contacts will bypass silent mode and notify you.
Note that these settings only apply to calls and SMS messages. Messages sent from other apps, like WhatsApp, won’t break through silent mode. If you want to add an app’s notifications to Priority Only mode, go to Settings > Apps and tap on the one you’d like to add. Choose Notifications on the app’s info page, and enable Override Do Not Disturb to include it.
So that you don’t have to manually toggle DnD as often, head back to Settings > Sound > Do not Disturb and select Automatic rules. Here, you can schedule times that DnD will automatically turn on and off, and which of the three modes it uses at these times.
Using Different Apps
If you don’t want to use Android’s built-in method of overriding silent mode for some reason, or if you’re running an older version of Android below Lollipop, you still have a few options.
TeXTe is a simple app that hasn’t been updated in a few years, but still worked in our testing. After installing it, open it up and set an emergency keyword that’s case-sensitive. When any text message containing this keyword arrives, the app will play a sound that sounds like Morse Code at full blast.
This works even if your phone is in Alarms Only with the media volume muted, but won’t work if your phone is in Total Silence. As long as you let your loved ones know of the keyword and make sure it isn’t something that would come up in normal conversation, this app is a simple way to give anyone emergency access to you.
Download: TeXTe (Free)
If you’d like to get a little more hands-on, you can use the excellent automation tool MacroDroid to set up your own override. The app lets you create five scripts for free, which is plenty for our purposes. Install the app, then choose New Macro. There are tons of options, but you can follow the image below to set up a basic override:
This script looks for a text message from a specific contact (you can also choose a group of contacts) no matter its content. If the phone is in silent mode when a message arrives, it boosts the phone’s volume and plays a notification sound.
You can tweak this around to your liking. Maybe you want to only run this script if the message contains a certain word, for instance.
If you get a little creative, you can allow anyone to break through. You’ll need to set up two scripts. The first automatically replies to all texts when your phone is in silent mode and says something like this:
Automatic message: Ben’s phone is currently in silent mode. If this is an emergency, please respond with the word EMERGENCY.
Then, a second script watches all incoming texts when your phone is in silent mode. It boosts your volume and plays a sound if you receive a message from anyone containing the keyword.
You can do a ton of cool tricks with MacroDroid, so have a look around if you aren’t satisfied with the above ideas.
Download: MacroDroid (Free)
Never Miss an Emergency Again
No matter which version of Android you use, you don’t have to miss important messages from silent mode. The built-in Do Not Disturb on newer versions gives you complete control, and with a bit of setup you can make your own override with MacroDroid. Just make sure you test everything to ensure it works, and that you won’t accidentally trigger an override when you need your phone quiet!
Have trouble finding your phone when it’s on silent mode? Check out how to easily locate your Android phone.
Do you often need trusted contacts to break through silent mode? Let us know if you use one of these methods, and share your creative MacroDroid scripts with us!
Originally written by Chris Hoffman on July 29th, 2013.