Midstate dispatchers say Apple Watches are mistakenly calling 911


OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (WDAF/WHTM) — 911 dispatchers throughout the Midstate are getting a lot of accidental 911 calls from Apple Watch users, and it’s becoming a distraction.

In Dauphin County, dispatchers said the problem is nothing new. They say a typical day includes at least a handful of accidental calls from Apple Watch devices or iPhones.

Dispatchers in Cumberland County say they don’t receive as many accidental calls from Apple products but do at least on occasion.

Elsewhere in the country similar problems. A spokesperson for Overland Park, Kansas, police said the accidental calls likely happen when users graze against the watch’s touchscreen or large buttons on the side. Most of the time, those users are unaware they’ve called police until the call has been answered.

“What happens is while people are moving around in their sleep or exercising, they’ll get the Apple Watch into the emergency mode. Without knowing it, the watch will actually call 911,” Overland Park Police Capt. Jim Sutterby said.

Sutterby said when dispatchers call the accidental callers back, they sometimes say their Apple Watch triggered the call. Dispatchers are required to return calls that result in the caller hanging up or remaining silent.

The unwanted calls distract emergency dispatchers and take away resources meant for actual emergencies. Sutterby said Overland Park’s 911 center gets around 250 calls per hour, some accidental.

Tech experts say this is common. Jae Reynolds, manager at the Mobile Revive store in Westport, Kansas, said he advises customers to buy a protective case for their Apple Watches. That provides protection for those knobs and buttons.

Reynolds said there’s also the option of turning off the iPhone’s SOS function. That can be done within the connected iPhone’s settings.

“Once you have it on, it’s easy to hit a setting on there because you’re constantly moving around with it, in and out of your pocket. Things like that. It’s easy to call someone on accident,” Reynolds said.

Apple said it’s not familiar with this problem but that the Emergency SOS function has been useful in life-threatening situations.

To place a call using the Apple Watch, a user must press and hold the watch’s side button — located below the Digital Crown button — until the Emergency SOS slider appears. After the user drags the slider, a countdown begins. Once it ends, the call to 911 is placed automatically.

On its website, Apple gives instructions on how to end an emergency call that was accidentally started. “If you start an emergency call by accident, tap the End Call button, then tap Yes to confirm that you want to stop the call,” it says.

Sutterby advises callers who accidentally call 911 not to hang up, but instead to tell the dispatcher the call was mistakenly placed. 

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