Apple Watches and iPhones are Placing Dozens of False Distress Calls About Skiers
“Do you have an emergency?” [911 emergency dispatcher] Betts asked. No, the man said, he was skiing — safely, happily, unharmed. Slightly annoyed, he added, “For the last three days, my watch has been dialing 911.”
Winter has brought a decent amount of snowfall to [Colorado]’s ski resorts, and with it an avalanche of false emergency calls. Virtually all of them have been placed by Apple Watches or iPhone 14s under the mistaken impression that their owners have been debilitated in collisions. As of September, these devices have come equipped with technology meant to detect car crashes and alert 911 dispatchers. It is a more sensitive upgrade to software on Apple devices, now several years old, that can detect when a user falls and then dial for help. But the latest innovation appears to send the device into overdrive: It keeps mistaking skiers, and some other fitness enthusiasts, for car-wreck victims.
Lately, emergency call centers in some ski regions have been inundated with inadvertent, automated calls, dozens or more a week. Phone operators often must put other calls, including real emergencies, on hold to clarify whether the latest siren has been prompted by a human at risk or an overzealous device. “My whole day is managing crash notifications,” said Trina Dummer, interim director of Summit County’s emergency services, which received 185 such calls in the week from Jan. 13 to Jan. 22. (In winters past, the typical call volume on a busy day was roughly half that.) Ms. Dummer said that the onslaught was threatening to desensitize dispatchers and divert limited resources from true emergencies.
“Apple needs to put in their own call center if this is a feature they want,” she said.
Apple acknowledged this was occuring in “some specific scenarios,” the Times reports — but a spokesperson also “noted that when a crash is detected, the watch buzzes and sends a loud warning alerting the user that a call is being placed to 911, and it provides 10 seconds in which to cancel the call.”
But the Times points out that “skiers, in helmets and layers of clothing, often do not to detect the warning, so they may not cancel the call or respond to the 911 dispatcher.”
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