From roller coaster parks to woodland trails, dispatch centres across the US have responded to a mix of familiar and unfamiliar places this winter season for reports of serious accidents – only to find no trace of an emergency.
The recent rise in false alarms, seen largely in outdoor hot spots, has been attributed to Apple’s new crash detection feature, which uses a combination of data collected by sensors within several of the company's devices to detect sudden changes in movement to determine if a crash has occurred. The feature is automatically activated by default with the latest version of iOS on the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro as well as the Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE (2nd generation) and Apple Watch Ultra.
If the feature registers a crash, an alert will be displayed on the screen, followed by an audio message for emergency services, which informs them that the owner has been in a crash and provides the latest coordinates with an “approximate” search radius, according to Apple Support. If no WiFi or cellular service is available, it will attempt to contact a 911 center through Emergency SOS via satellite.
Though the feature has saved people who have been in a crash, it has become known nationwide more for its faultiness in treating non-crashes as emergency situations and requesting the help of local first responders.
And for Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid, it has been no different.
Since the launch of the iPhone 14 and the start of crash detection services mutual aid has received around 30 calls since November, according to Chief Joe Sangermano.
Sangermano said the biggest issue with this new feature is that people don’t notice the call to 911 going out, and are fine, and dispatchers become tied up with calls for non-emergencies.
As recently as Friday, mutual aid received a call from Stratton, Vt., where someone was snowmobiling and likely took a hard hit, but kept moving. However, their phone made a crash detection call to 911, sending first responders out to the trail. Upon arrival, no one was found injured, leading them to believe there was no accident, Sangermano said.
He added that while it's definitely a useful tool, he's hoping there will be ways to perfect it to prevent calls from being put out for jolts and bumps while someone is taking part in physical activity. He said he wishes people could depend solely on snow patrol for their safety, but understands that anyone could go off the trail and be hard to find.
Sangermano said that if people are more aware of their devices and instances when one of these calls might be triggered, time and resources spent contacting or reaching that person could be saved.
"I don't think we're advocating (for) shutting that feature off," Sangermano said. "It's just that it would be nice if the person knew that they had a crash and that they were fine, at least check that application to see if it had dialed out from their device and follow up to say they're fine."
In case of a real emergency, Sangermano said he'd rather see people have the crash detection services on for safety reasons.
In a Facebook post written by Fire Mutual Aid last December, the organization suggests everyone become familiarized with the features and be aware of speaking with the telecommunicator if there is a mistake.
"Leave the thing on, let it do what it's designed to do," Sangermano said. "If you know you set it off, then follow up with 911 and let them know that you're all right. It would probably cut down on a fair amount of dispatching resources for somebody who's not there when we get there." – The Keene Sentinel, N.H./Tribune News Service