Police officers are spending more time dealing with accidental 911 calls from cellphones these days, and it appears a software update with iPhones is at least partially to blame.
The phones’ software now opens the phone’s keyboard to dial 911 when the power button is hit five times in a row, known as the “SOS feature.”
Unfortunately, that can unwittingly happen when a person is jogging, on a boat or making other repetitive motions when the phone is in a pocket.
Police typically send an officer to all 911 calls to dispatchers, even when they don’t hear anyone on the line reporting an emergency.
Lake George Park Commission Sgt. Shane Ross said accidental 911 calls have become a big issue for boat patrol officers on Lake George this summer, particularly in recent weeks.
And for boat officers, it’s not easy to figure out from which boat the call came, so officers have to check as many boats as possible in the area from which the call originated to make sure there is no actual emergency.
Ross said he dealt with three 911 hang-up calls in one shift on the lake last week. Other police agencies have noticed the trend as well.
“We get these almost every day now on the lake and sometimes several a day,” he said. “It’s a major drain on manpower. For example, we stopped no less than 10 boats attempting to find just one 911 open line the other day.”
It seems to be a particular issue on the waters of Lake George because of the pounding that boats, and their passengers, can take on the waves.
Ross said he and his wife witnessed an accidental 911 call while watching Lake George fireworks earlier this summer.
“We actually saw it happen to a girl with her phone sitting right next to us,” he said. “We overheard her talking to the 911 center and she said to her friend, ‘Huh, I just dialed 911 somehow.’ “
Warren County Undersheriff Shawn Lamouree said his county’s dispatch center has not seen any noticeable overall increase in 911 “hang-up” calls.
In neighboring Washington County, Deputy Public Safety Director Tim Hardy said his agency saw an increase in 911 hang-up calls from iPhones when the SOS feature was first introduced, but it seems to have leveled off recently.
“There were quite a bit after that feature took effect, but nothing recently,” he said.
Law enforcement officials across the country have been encountering the issue. Apple Watches are also prone to the hang-up calls, as they can make 911 calls in certain situations when they detect a possible fall of the wearer.
Officials said one way to lessen the chance of an accidental 911 call is to temporarily turn off the phone when in a situation where it might be repeatedly jostled, such as when a boat is moving or when jogging.
Also, if you find that your phone accidentally made a 911 call, don’t hang up. Stay on the phone to explain to dispatchers that the call was an accident.