Emergency responders in Elk Grove and Sacramento Country have received over 1,600 accidental 911 calls from Apple repair facilities in the past four months.
The calls waste valuable time and resources and potentially slow down the response to genuine emergencies. The problem seems to have been introduced by iOS 11, which added an Emergency SOS shortcut to iPhone and Apple Watch.
If you ever need to call 911 discreetly, you can use the physical buttons on the side of your iPhone or Apple Watch to activate the Emergency SOS feature.
On iPhone 8 and iPhone X, you need to press and hold the volume and Side buttons simultaneously. On earlier iPhone models, you quickly press the Side button five times. On Apple Watch, you simply hold the Side button.
It’s a useful feature, but you can see how it might be triggered accidentally.
Accidental 911 calls
Since last October, Elk Grove emergency responders have been receiving around 20 calls a day from Apple repair and refurbishment facilities in the area. There’s never anyone on the other end of the call, and it’s not clear if the calls are made by iPhones or Apple Watches.
What is clear is that the calls are wasting valuable seconds that could be holding up the response time for other emergencies.
“The times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” police dispatcher Jamie Hudson told CBS Sacramento.
Similar calls have been received by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which says that dispatchers sometimes heard Apple technicians in the background.
Apple Watch makes 911 calls too easy
This isn’t the first time emergency responders have had an issue with accidental 911 calls from Apple Watch.
Early last year, dispatchers in Tolland County, Connecticut, reported the same problem. A dispatcher in Ottawa County, Michigan, said earlier this month that they were receiving “at least” 10 accidental calls a day from Apple Watches.
It seems too easy for Emergency SOS to be activated on Apple Watch. With only one button required, it can be pressed inadvertently against the edge of a pocket or another item of clothing, and you may not even know about it.
Apple told CBS that it is aware of the problem, and is “working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn’t continue.” The company could surely have its technicians disable the feature before they begin a repair or refurbishment.