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Flexible and Extensible Emergency Contact Information with Twilio and Azure Functions

hayleydenb profile image Hayley Denbraver πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»πŸ₯‘ Updated on ・9 min read

Thank you to Twilio and the DEV team for naming this project one of the runners up for the Twilio Hackathon. I am honored and delighted. See the other winners here


Everyone should make sure that their emergency contact information and important medical details are up to date and accessible in an emergency (AKA right now).

I am proud to announce my submission to the Twilio Hackathon, In Case of Emergency! πŸŽ‰

Background

I love to run! I am not particularly fast, but I am incredibly stubborn.


Life lesson: persistence can get you really far.

Whether you are running around the block, or running all day, you should make sure to be safe. For me, this has meant carrying pepper spray, wearing reflective gear in low light, and running with a RoadID. A RoadID is just a customizable medic alert bracelet, designed for athletes. By wearing an ID your emergency contacts and any important medical information easily accessible if something were to happen on your run. RoadID isn't your only option, but it is the one I currently use.

I have a bit of a problem however--my emergency information changes a lot! Over the last couple of years I have developed new allergies, started or stopped medication, and had my emergency contacts change their phone numbers. The info on your alert bracelet is only good if it is current.

Running isn't what it used to be (I find myself running circles in a closed parking lot all by myself these days), but safety on the run is still important.

Additionally, everyone should make sure that their emergency contact information and important medical details are up to date and accessible in an emergency (AKA right now).

Do your roommates know who they should call if you are sick? Is relevant information accessible if you are unable to advocate for yourself?

I have been kicking around the idea of a Twilio app that could help keep my ID current and can include any information that I want. No longer would I be bound to the line limit or to the inexorable passage of time. The Twilio Hackathon was the perfect chance to bring my idea to light.

My application

Introducing In Case of Emergency, the Twilio app that makes it easy to keep emergency contact information up to date! I can also customize my information, making sure not to leave out anything

Technologies

My application uses the following:

Features

In Case of Emergency provides the following via text to emergency personnel or a Good Samaritan who finds you in need:

  • Medically relevant information(allergies, known conditions, blood type, anything that you personally would want a doctor to know in an emergency)
  • Medications and any relevant dosing information
  • Names and phone numbers of your emergency contacts

Best of all, you can keep all of your information current by editing the relevant environment variables in Azure Functions. You can always add an item to your list of meds. You can remove an item from your medical details when it is no longer relevant (for instance: pregnancy, injury, ). Add and edit contacts with ease.

Try it out!

I want to share the project with the DEV community, but I do not want y'all to have access to my medical details or my emergency contacts. Boundaries are healthy. πŸ˜‰

But you don't have to take my word for it that the project works. I have set up a sample phone number and PIN (distinct from my actual emergency number and PIN) that is tied to data that is not personal. You can text the sample number yourself and see how the tool works.

1. Text '12358' to 1-206-312-4357. If you don't send this code to the number, all it will do is instruct you to follow directions on the ID.

2. Text 'meds', 'contacts', 'details', or 'shameless' to get further information.

Texting 'shameless' will give you information on how to connect with me. I am currently on the job market for a Developer Advocate role and if you like my style, let's connect.

This is what will show up on your phone when you follow the above instructions!

Screenshot of my phone utilizing the texting app. I sent the pin and got instructions back on how to navigate the information.

Get your own

Could you use something like this in your life? You can get your own. You will need:

  1. An Azure account.
  2. A Twilio account and a Twilio phone number.
  3. To clone my GitHub repository and make any changes to the code to suit your situation.

Steps to success with Azure

Azure recently updated their UI, so some of these images are slightly out of date. Currently you can use the old UI, look for the informational alert.

The screenshot shows what it looks like to find the Azure function extension in VS Code.

  • Authenticate your Azure account in VS Code. Once you have installed the Azure Functions extension, you should see a notification on the extension tab that will help you through the process. Now your VS Code install and your Azure account are connected.
  • Create a new Azure Function App through the Azure Portal in your webbrowser.

    • Click functions to navigate to all of your Functions Apps.

You can find Azure Functions in your portal.

  • Add a new Function App.

You need to add a new function app by clicking add.

  • Configure the settings for your new App. The defaults should be sufficient, though check your region. Here is the summary of my setup before I deployed a trial function app. (This screen shot is not from this specific project.)

Example setup.

  • Once you feel good about the settings, deploy! Azure will take a minute to deploy your app.

  • In VS Code, open the file containing the repository that you cloned and pulled down from my GitHub. VS Code should detect that you have a Azure function application. Follow any prompts that it may give you.

The Azure Function extension will detect when have opened a folder that has an Azure Function application.

  • You will need to deploy your local project (the project you cloned from my repository) to your Azure Function App. You do so by clicking the button in VS Code that is indicated in the image below. (It is the upload button. This will also be used to deploy any changes you make in the future.)

Deploy your local project to Azure!

  • When prompted, select the Azure Function App you just created and deploy!

Twilio account and phone number

Once you have a Twilio account, you need to purchase and set up a Twilio phone number.

You will want your phone number to behave in a certain way when someone texts you. Here is what it looks like to set it up:

Screenshot of the Twilio phone number UI. When the number is sent a message, a GET request is made to my Azure function endpoint.

When the number is sent a message, a GET request is made to my Azure function endpoint. I have obscured my URL, but if you want your own you can find yours in your Azure Function UI as shown:

Screenshot indicates where to locate the url

Environment variables

Once you have the basic set up in Azure and Twilio, you will need to populate your environment variables. When you are viewing your Azure Functions application in your Azure Portal, you will be able to configure your function (add environment variables). The link to that functionality is circled in the picture below. I have also circled where you can monitor your function. This will be particularly useful to troubleshoot any issues you may have with the environment variables, etc.

Image shows circled link to monitor the function and to configure the function's environment variables.

The image below shows what you will find when you are configuring your function. The variables that are not circled come pre-populated.

Image shows all the environment variables that you will need for this project.

You can add and edit variables by clicking the links indicated by the arrows in your configuration UI. Variables indicated in red should be found in your Twilio account (AUTH_TOKEN and ACCOUNT_SID) and are necessary to use the Twilio API. The variables indicated in blue you will need to create, and include things like your Twilio number, etc.

The trickiest environment variable is EMERGENCY_INFORMATION. It can be long and, if not formatted properly, can be a problem. It must be in JSON format. Don't add a single quote to the outside of the structure. Only use double quotes, JSON doesn't understand single quotes. You can take the template below and populate it with your information.

{
"meds": [
    ["Med A: ", "Notes for A"], 
    ["Med B: ", "Notes for B"]
    ],
"details":[
    ["Blood type: ", "Blood Type"], 
    ["Allergies: ", "Allergies"], 
    ["Other information: ", "Other health information"]
    ], 
"contacts": [
    ["Contact 1", "Contact 1 number"],
    ["Contact 2", "Contact 2 number"]
    ]
}

When you are done adding variables, you will need to save them before they will be applied to your function.

Let me know!

If you give the above a try, please let me know. I would love to hear from you and can be contacted most readily on Twitter.

A parting word on security

Some real talk--this application strikes a balance between making sure information is accessible in an emergency and risking exposure of private information. I have done a number of things to protect my privacy, but if you spin up your own version, you need to consider what you are comfortable with.

Here are a few security steps I took in building this project:

  1. The Twilio number associated with my ID has not been published on dev.to and it was never checked into my version control. You don't publish your keys in git, don't put your phone number in there either, even at the beginning. If you put important information like this in git, people can browse the history and find it, even if you later remove it.

  2. I did not hard code any of my medicines, medical history, or my emergency contacts. Again, you want someone to be able to access it in an emergency, but you don't want to publish your personal business for the whole internet to see.

  3. I included a PIN on my ID. My ID will instruct someone to text my Twilio number with my PIN to initiate the exchange. If a number has sent the PIN, it can navigate the options. If it has not, it only will get a message saying to check the ID for instructions. This protects me from someone accidentally texting me and stumbling on my medical history.

  4. My Twilio account and my Azure account are protected by 2FA. This helps protect my environment variables including: my Twilio phone number, my PIN, my emergency contacts, my personal medical information as well as the logs present in both my Twilio and Azure accounts.

  5. I have limited the phone numbers that can hit my function and have not published the full URL. That means that if you somehow had the correct URL, you would be unable to set up a Twilio number to hit it and get my medical information.

  6. I am only working with my own information and have weighed the pros and cons. Additionally, I gained consent from my emergency contacts to include their phone numbers in this endeavor. One of my emergency contacts is also an experienced developer and we did a code review in order to get another pair of eyes on it.

Final thoughts

Thanks to Twilio and the DEV community for hosting this hackathon. I would love for this project to be considered for either the COVID communications or the X-factor category.

And to the DEV community, please be safe and well whether you are coding, sewing masks, taking care of loved ones, playing Animal Crossing, baking bread, or any or all of the above. Remember to take breaks and be kind to yourselves. This too, shall pass.

Posted on Apr 23 by:

hayleydenb profile

Hayley Denbraver πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»πŸ₯‘

@hayleydenb

Software engineer, developer advocate, technical content creator. Believes coding can and should be fun and that teams work best when they are inclusive. I am on the market right now.

Discussion

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I'm not surprised you built the function using Python! πŸ‘ŒπŸ€—

 

hahaha OF COURSE Liran. Have you pip installed anything else lately?

 

Awesome tool. Awesome blog. Way to go Hayley!