Accidental Apple Watch Emergency SOS calls cause problems for local police

Posted:
in General Discussion edited June 18
A local police department in Kansas says they're seeing accidental calls that appear to be originating from Apple Watch devices, with the errant summons pulling resources away from actual emergencies.

Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsiderCredit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider
Credit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsiderCredit: Andrew O'Hara, AppleInsider


According to local media outlet Fox Kansas City, the Overland Park police department complains that it receives so many accidental phone calls that it is becoming a distraction. The Overland Park's 911 center typically gets about 250 emergency calls an hour, authorities said.

"What happens is while people are moving around in their sleep or exercising, they'll get the Apple Watch into the emergency mode. Without knowing it, the watch will actually call 911," said police captain Jim Sutterby.

The issue appears to be the Apple Watch Emergency SOS feature, which will automatically make a call to first responders if the side button is held for a period of time.

Users can mitigate the issue by placing a case on their Apple Watch device, or by customizing or disabling Emergency SOS.

However, the feature can be a literal life-saver in emergency situations, so it's recommended that users keep it on. Since the debut of the Apple Watch, there has been a steady stream of reports of the device providing help to users in distress.

Local police in Kansas City say that Apple Watch users who have made an accidental call to authorities shouldn't hang up. Instead, they should inform the dispatcher that the call was made inadvertently.

This isn't the first time that Apple Watch safety feature caused problems for local emergency responders. In 2018, workers at an Apple repair and refurbishment facility in California would accidentally call 911 about 20 times a day. While not specified by Apple or local authorities, it was believed that the wearable's SOS feature was to blame for the errant calls.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    250 calls an hour doesn’t strike me as people accidentally activating the emergency SOS feature. If that were true, seems to me it would be more widespread nationally. 
    winstoner71martinp13
  • Reply 2 of 15
    250 calls an hour doesn’t strike me as people accidentally activating the emergency SOS feature. If that were true, seems to me it would be more widespread nationally. 
    What I think they meant to say, is that the Department normally gets around 250 9-1-1 Calls each hour, but some of them are... iOS accidental ones.
    StrangeDaysgregoriusm
  • Reply 3 of 15
    It’s happened to me before. I was working out with my Apple Watch on, doing push-ups. Apparently my wrist was bent enough that the top of my hand pressed the side button hard enough and long enough to activate the 911 call. In the middle of the set I heard someone saying something but I couldn’t make it out because my hands were also wrapped. When I checked my iPhone later I saw that I had initiated the call. Oops.

    Flip side, a friend of mine is a police dispatcher. She’s constantly telling me how they get bogus “solicitor” calls, you know, the ones where they’re trying to get you to send money for something that typically sounds like a scam. She frequently plays along for a while, then the rest of the dispatch team listen to the recording later and all get a laugh out of it. They also get drunks calling for things that aren’t emergencies. I’ll have to ask but I would guess that the accidental Apple Watch calls are far fewer than the other calls that end up just being nonsense.

    To keep this in perspective, she works in a busy city in Virginia, it’s not like she’s in some slow, back woods town.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 4 of 15
    Just yesterday I was riding my bike over some rough terrain when I felt a buzzing from my watch. I looked down to see that it was about to make an emergency call to the local first responders. I was able to disable the feature before it made the call. But if I hadn't been paying attention, I would have sent the local EMTs on a wild goose chase. Perhaps Apple should consider tweaking the sensitivity of that feature a bit.
    edited June 16
  • Reply 5 of 15
    Triggered this while riding my motorbike due to wrist flex. Couldn’t hear over the wind and engine noise. To make it worse i have two emergency contacts setup who also got a text, so they assumed I crashed my motorbike. 

    Solution. I changed the Watch orientation so the crown is now facing my elbow instead of my hand. No more issues.
  • Reply 6 of 15
    I'm curious why this is one city. As TheGadgetGuy said, this should be nationwide/etc if it's an Apple issue. Only Kansas City? Not Topeka? Not Kansas City MO? Kinda odd.
  • Reply 7 of 15
    XedXed Posts: 1,028member
    I've almost done it once. I at least had the siren going off, but I don't think I got as far as calling Emergency Services. My display stopped responding to inputs and I was pushing buttons to try to initiate a hard shutdown. Oops.
  • Reply 8 of 15
    kent909kent909 Posts: 730member
    I had three false events since I got my watch 3 1/2 years ago. The last false event was over a year ago. The one time I did fall it did not work. I was in an auto accident last week and my watch did call 911. I am glad it did.
    edited June 16 gregoriusmPetrolDavelarryjw
  • Reply 9 of 15
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 832member
    Living in Wisconsin, winter chores including chopping up the ice accumulating on the driveway, and sidewalks. I've learned not to use my left arm as AW thinks I've fallen. 

    Turning off the watch or taking it off while shoveling snow -- for an old guy -- is not an option. I've already lost a couple of friends much younger than I to stress from snow shoveling. 

    But, thanks for the advice to stay on the line if you get connected in error. I wouldn't have thought to do that. 
    edited June 17
  • Reply 10 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,261member
    woodworks said:
    Just yesterday I was riding my bike over some rough terrain when I felt a buzzing from my watch. I looked down to see that it was about to make an emergency call to the local first responders. I was able to disable the feature before it made the call. But if I hadn't been paying attention, I would have sent the local EMTs on a wild goose chase. Perhaps Apple should consider tweaking the sensitivity of that feature a bit.

    Yeh, the same has happened to me -- except while playing basketball and football -- the fall detection gets triggered.   Fortunately, like you, I caught it before it actually made the call.

    It would be helpful if Apple made it give a loud chime in addition to the vibration to make it more noticeable.  The vibration on the wrist could easily be missed -- especially when you're doing the things that tend to trigger the false call.

    It would also be nice if they would make it easier to temporarily disable fall detection.  As it is, i would have to stop the game while I went over to my phone and scrolled through settings to disable it.



  • Reply 11 of 15
    I know how this is happening. People who wear their Apple Watches with a long sleeve shirt in the summer time will find that they cuffs get moist from sweat and that triggers the Apple Watch into thinking you are touching the screen. In my experience it caused my podcast and audio book apps to skip forward or back in time and play at different speeds. The mistake Apple made is to accept taps when the watch is swinging at your side rather than being held up so you can see and touch the screen.
  • Reply 12 of 15
    darkvaderdarkvader Posts: 589member
    martinp13 said:
    I'm curious why this is one city. As TheGadgetGuy said, this should be nationwide/etc if it's an Apple issue. Only Kansas City? Not Topeka? Not Kansas City MO? Kinda odd.

    Oh, it's nationwide.

    But the 911 system always makes a local call, so the whining about it is always going to be local.

    Now that one city has whined about it, you can bet others will jump in and start whining soon.
  • Reply 13 of 15
    XedXed Posts: 1,028member
    darkvader said:
    martinp13 said:
    I'm curious why this is one city. As TheGadgetGuy said, this should be nationwide/etc if it's an Apple issue. Only Kansas City? Not Topeka? Not Kansas City MO? Kinda odd.

    Oh, it's nationwide.

    But the 911 system always makes a local call, so the whining about it is always going to be local.

    Now that one city has whined about it, you can bet others will jump in and start whining soon.
    It's nationwide, but the number of false alarms aren't necessarily equal. This from 2018...

    https://appleinsider.com/articles/18/02/22/apple-repair-facility-in-california-made-about-1600-false-alarm-911-calls-since-october
  • Reply 14 of 15
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 10,261member
    I know how this is happening. People who wear their Apple Watches with a long sleeve shirt in the summer time will find that they cuffs get moist from sweat and that triggers the Apple Watch into thinking you are touching the screen. In my experience it caused my podcast and audio book apps to skip forward or back in time and play at different speeds. The mistake Apple made is to accept taps when the watch is swinging at your side rather than being held up so you can see and touch the screen.

    When exercising you can lock the screen to prevent errant taps from a shirt sleeve or jacket.
  • Reply 15 of 15
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,689member
    I know how this is happening. People who wear their Apple Watches with a long sleeve shirt in the summer time will find that they cuffs get moist from sweat and that triggers the Apple Watch into thinking you are touching the screen. In my experience it caused my podcast and audio book apps to skip forward or back in time and play at different speeds. The mistake Apple made is to accept taps when the watch is swinging at your side rather than being held up so you can see and touch the screen.
    No. It’s from the feature that dials 911 if you hold the side button down long enough.  I turned the feature off after doing just that one night. I was out playing with my cat in the yard and heard a voice coming from my Watch. I had planted my hand flat in the grass and with my arm going straight up, the Watch was wedged against my hand and side button was pressed by the top of my hand, which called 911. 
    GeorgeBMac
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