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Automatic crash notifications sending false alarm 911 calls

Some local dispatch centers are frustrated with the uptick in false alarm calls due to a feature that automatically dials 911 when a crash is detected

IDAHO, USA — Some Idaho 911 dispatch centers are frustrated with a jump in false alarm calls coming from smart phones and watches.

Apple's automatic crash notification feature automatically calls 911 when the owner of the device crashes or takes a hard fall. The feature is indented to help people who can't dial for help.

But many of those calls wind up being false alarms. 

"In our agency, I can speak ours. Less than 5% are actual emergencies. We have had a few that are real, but for the most part they're false, and they're extremely time consuming," Sgt. Kelly Copperi, communications supervisor for the Valley County Sheriff's Office said. "It's not just limited to ski season, it is very prevalent in the summer."

Valley County isn't alone. The Adams County and Boise County sheriff's offices have also been dealing with an increase in those types of false alarm calls.

Many of those who accidently call 911 through automatic crash notifications immediately hang up. 

"It's kind of frustrating, because they are really difficult to get the caller to call back to verify if they're okay or not, because that's what we do," Sgt. Copperi said.

Valley County dispatch's procedure is to try and call someone back twice. If they're unable to reach someone, they send a patrol deputy or notify a patrol unit of the call's location. Responses for false alarm calls can waste law enforcement's resources. 

Sgt. Copperi said the number of these types of false alarm calls was so bad at one point, they started collecting data to try and contact Apple, but were unable to find an avenue to get the tech giant the information. 

Apple's automatic crash notifications feature can be turned off in the Settings app, under the Emergency SOS panel, the 'Call After Severe Crash' setting.

The feature is only on iPhone 14 models with the latest version of iOS, and Apple Watch's Series 8, SE, and Ultra models.

The Valley County Sheriff's Office has recently implemented a new program that could also help dispatch. Prepared 911 allows them to text a message to a caller - which is more likely to get a response.

"We can actually initiate a text conversation with the with the caller, and hopefully that gives us a little bit more in contact, and raises our contact level," Sgt. Copperi said. "Because right now, when we call them back, people are like, 'Oh, my phone just called 911. I don't want to answer that."

The program also allows callers to send a live video feed from their phone, which helps give officers a better picture of the scene they're responding to.

Sgt. Copperi says it is okay if you accidently dial 911. And it is important to respond back to help law enforcement better utilize their resources. 

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