Apple Watches, phones accidentally dialing up trouble for dispatch

Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Don’t bump the buttons: That’s the message from emergency dispatchers across the country as they deal with a large number of accidental calls to 911 from Apple products.

“You’re having people, I’m assuming, that are just double tapping this a lot for that to go off,” said Genius Phone Repair technician Christian Tyler as he showed the safety feature built into newer Apple products.

The feature gives the device owner a way to dial 911 without going to the keypad.    

But throw a phone in a pocket or purse, accidentally swipe the screen or crunch the smart watch button the wrong way, and that call may make it to 911. 

In St. Joseph County, accidental 911 calls have become such a problem that county dispatchers took to social media to ask for help.

And the problem isn’t limited to St. Joseph County.

“This is a nationwide problem, really a worldwide problem,” said Kent County Emergency Communications Supervisor Jennifer Robinson.

While dispatch centers don’t currently track the exact number of accidental cellphone calls, those sitting in front of the dispatch consoles day after day know it’s a lot.

And the numbers are growing.

Robinson estimates that anywhere from 10% to 25% of the 911 calls they receive each day are accidental dials.

Often, the phone or smart watch owner doesn’t realize they’ve made the calls.

“The way these phones are configured to allow people to call 911 quickly and easily, without going through a big unlock process,” Robinson said. “But it does result in a number of accidental dials.”

You can alleviate the problem by putting your phone or watch in a holster or case to reduce the chances of the screen or buttons getting pressed accidentally.    

If it’s still a problem, there is a way to shut the emergency feature off.

“You go into your settings. Then, you go to “Emergency SOS.” And then, the call slide button — you just turn it off,” Tyler demonstrated.

Accidental calls on Apple Watches can be stopped by tapping the “End Call” button, then pressing “Yes” to confirm that you want to stop the call.

And if you do accidentally dial 911 and don’t stop it from going through, don’t hang up.

“Let us know that it was an accidental dial,” Robinson said. “Nobody’s going to be in trouble for dialing 911 accidentally. But it frees up our resources because we have to follow up on all of those disconnected calls, try and make sure and verify that it isn’t a true emergency.”

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