Dispatcher receives unexpected 911 call from skier due to iPhone crash tech

Summit County, Utah — New crash technology could trigger an iPhone to call 9-1-1 even if the user doesn’t need help.

Summit County dispatchers have seen an increase in accidental emergency calls from skiers. The technology is designed to detect serious crashes, but it’s often accidentally activated at ski resorts.

If the Apple device detects a crash, an on-screen message will appear and an alarm will sound. Users can dismiss the alert, but if they don’t respond within 20 seconds, an automated voice message is sent to the nearest 911 call center.

“We’ll get a call that the owner of this Apple Watch or iPhone has either been in a serious crash or been involved in a car accident,” said Susie Butterfield, director of the Summit County Dispatch Center.

Collision detection technology is available for iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch Ultra. It sends the GPS coordinates of the user’s location and its callback number to the dispatcher.

“When you first start talking, they don’t respond to you because I don’t even think they know they’ve done it, but on the call back, they usually say, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m skiing. Everything. It’s all good,'” Butterfield said.

If dispatchers are unable to reach the iPhone user, they will alert the ski patrol.

Butterfield said she receives three to five emergency calls a day from Apple technology. She said none of the calls she answered were intentionally activated.

“They often don’t know they’re even calling us,” Butterfield said.

She said she didn’t mind the emergency pocket dial.

“If we can avoid emergencies, that’s a good thing,” she said.

Butterfield sees the technology as a tool, not an inconvenience.

“Someone could ski and hit a tree and be knocked out without the other skiers seeing it,” she said.

Apple’s collision detection is turned on by default. Please keep it that way, the dispatcher at the Summit County Call Center said.

“We don’t want you to turn that off,” Butterfield said. “We’d rather you be safe. We don’t mind taking that call because if something does happen, we want to be able to find you.”

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