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When Your Apple Watch Accidentally Calls 9-1-1...

Author: Randall D. Larson

Copyright: 2017 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2017-04-25
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Technology marches forward, and whether it’s GPS-equipped smart phones or smart cars or, now, the popular feature-loaded Apple watch, consumers are being presented with more and more options to connect, network, and interface with various services for their ease and convenience.

One of the latest of these is the aforementioned Apple watch, which in its most recent operating system upgrade (watchOS 3), rolled out last September, now features a safety option called SOS. This feature, when activated, instantly connects the watch to your iPhone or other associated WiFi device and then smartly dials the local 9-1-1 PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) presumably associated with your location. It also notifies any designated emergency contacts you have set up on your phone of the emergency call.

<- image by Brad Moon, from Forbes.com

A helpful safety device when time is of the essence or when grabbing your smartphone during a threatening circumstance may not be a wise option, this can be a pretty good feature. But, as we have seen with the if-I-had-a-dollar-for-every-butt-dialed-9-1-1-call-I’ve-answered-this-week, this feature also has shown its downside due to the very real surge in accidental 9-1-1 calls made from a mishandled or mistakenly-activated Apple Watch and its convenient SOS button.

Reporting in an important April 23, 2017 article posted to Forbes.com, contributing writer Brad Moon explained that the SOS feature is activated by holding down a button on the side of the watch for at least three seconds, after which the 9-1-1 call via your smart phone is initiated. But you can also activate it by simply sliding your finger down the side of the watch in order to make the 9-1-1 call immediately – and here comes the worry of most public safety dispatchers and 9-1-1 call takers.

Like the popular butt-dial feature of most cell phones (in which a phone, strategically placed in a rear pants pocket, is frequently activated to dial 9-1-1 when owner of said phone accidentally places pressure upon the phone by, say, sitting on it), if the watch wearer accidentally holds (or places pressure upon) the watch’s SOS button, or accidentally slides a finger across that button instead of the power-down button, which has been conveniently placed right beside it, an unintended wireless call is made to local 9-1-1 services call from your phone.

“For many Apple Watch owners, SOS offer peace of mind,” wrote Moon. “But some forget that it’s there and end up accidentally calling emergency services.”

Already a Reddit thread has been initiated  about the problem, and recently Tennessee’s Tolland County Mutual Aid Fire Services posted a PSA on its Facebook page warning the community about the Apple watch problem.

“You don’t want to have emergency responders showing up because you accidentally pushed a button and your Apple Watch summoned them,” Moon warned. “Your first line of defense is to be aware of the feature. The second is to know how to stop the SOS call before it’s initiated. If you accidentally trigger it, you do have a warning countdown and the ability to press the display and end the call before it connects to 9-1-1.

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As with most convenience features placed in our hands (or on our wrists, or against our butts) in this modern technological age, a degree of care and situational awareness is helpful to avoid an unnecessary call to 9-1-1. What Moon’s article fails to add, however, and which most 9-1-1 call-takers would definitely like to emphasize, is that users of Apple Watch operating system watchOS3, as well as owners of cellphones mistakenly placed between a butt and a hard place, do not hang up upon realizing a call to 9-1-1 has gone through. That will place a burden on the 9-1-1 dispatcher who is then required to call back, try and locate the call, and, if unable to reach the caller whose watch or whose butt has dialed 9-1-1 to confirm there is, in fact, no emergency and the call was unintentional, may need to send out first responders to try and locate the caller just to make sure. Just pick up the phone and inform the dispatcher the call was made in error. Trust, me, they will thank you for that courtesy.

This all makes me wonder… did Dick Tracy, with his 2-Way Wrist Radio, ever have such problems?

Read Brad Moon’s full article – and see his advice on how to stop the call from going through once it has been placed – at Forbes.com
 
A reader also suggested this article on the CydiaGeeks web site,

 

Dick Tracy DVD cover image above via wikipedia

 

 

 
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