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Dispatchers get accidental 911 calls from skiers because of iPhone crash technology


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PARK CITY — New crash technology may trigger iPhones to dial 911, even if the user doesn't need help.

Summit County dispatchers are seeing an uptick in accidental emergency calls from skiers. The technology is designed to detect severe car crashes, but it's often accidentally activated at ski resorts.

If the Apple device senses a crash has taken place, a message appears on the screen with an alarm sound. The user can dismiss the alert, but if they don't respond within 20 seconds, an automated voice message is sent to the nearest 911 call center.

"We will get a call in that says the owner of this Apple Watch or iPhone has either had a severe crash or they've been involved in a car accident," said Summit County Dispatch Center supervisor Suzie Butterfield.

The crash detection technology is available on the iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch SE and Apple Watch Ultra. It sends dispatchers GPS coordinates of the user's location and their callback number.

"They won't respond to you when you first start talking because I don't even think they knew that they did it, but on callback ... they're usually like, 'Oh I'm sorry, I was skiing. Everything's fine,'" Butterfield said.

If the dispatcher can't get ahold of the iPhone user, they will alert ski patrol.

Butterfield said she receives three to five of the emergency calls from the Apple technology per day. She said none of the calls she's taken have been activated on purpose.

"They usually have no idea that they've even called us," Butterfield said.

She said she doesn't mind the emergency pocket dials.

"If we can avoid the emergencies, that's a good thing," she said.

Butterfield sees the technology as a tool, not an inconvenience.

"Somebody could ski and hit a tree and be knocked unconscious and not be visible to other skiers," she said.

Apple's crash detection is turned on by default. The dispatchers in the Summit County call center said keep it that way.

"We do not want you to turn the feature off," Butterfield said. "We would rather have you be safe. We don't mind taking that call because if something really did happen, we want to be able to get to you."

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