There's a Big Problem With Apple's Automatic 911 Calls

Call centers are overwhelmed with calls triggered when there is no emergency
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2023 12:56 PM CST
Updated Feb 3, 2023 1:16 PM CST
There's a Big Problem With Apple's Automatic 911 Calls
In this March 15, 2018, file photo, a dispatcher works at a desk station with a variety of screens used by those who take 911 emergency calls in Roswell, Ga.   (AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane, File)

Emergency call centers in various states that have been inundated with false calls and officials are pointing the finger at a single culprit: Apple. Since 2018, Apple devices have been able to detect when a user suffers a hard fall. If a fall is detected, the device buzzes and sends an audio signal, notifying the user that a 911 call will be placed unless cancelled within 10 seconds. Emergency services usually respond when there's no voice on the end of the line and they're unable to make contact with a return call. With upgrades in September, Apple watches and iPhones are also meant to detect and respond to car crashes in the same way. Yet officials say they call 911 when there is no emergency, a problem that threatens to distract from real ones, reports the New York Times.

A woman tells the Times that her Apple Watch often "thinks I'm dead" when she's teaching spin classes. But there seems to be a larger issue with the movement of skiers, who may not hear or feel the alert or are perhaps unable to withdraw their hands from ski poles and mitts within 10 seconds. As the Times reports, "emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls." Apple says it's aware of the problem and that software updates late last year were meant to reduce false calls. Still, one day last month, almost 30% of 911 calls in Idaho's Bonner County came from people perfectly safe on Schweitzer Mountain, authorities said, per the Spokesman-Review.

There are similar reports out of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and British Columbia, per GearJunkie. Emergency services in Summit County, Colorado, received 185 false calls in one week in January—about double its typical call volume in winter, the Times reports. An official there says the calls rarely come from Android devices. Apple counters that its technology has saved numerous lives. Still, Colorado's Aspen Mountain is urging skiers to disable the service or at least upgrade its software. And in Grand County, Sheriff Brett Schroetlin has opted to ignore crash-detection calls when there's no voice on the other end of the line. If there is an emergency, "we're hoping to get an actual 911 call from the person or someone on the scene," he tells the Times. (More Apple stories.)

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