Some first responders are struggling to do their jobs after an increase in fake 911 calls. New iPhone 14’s have a crash detection feature that was released in September 2022, which calls first responders when the phone thinks the user has been in a crash. The problem is it’s happening when people fall skiing or if they’re driving a snowmobile.
In Minnesota, the Lutsen Mountains is the largest ski resort. Cook County covers the mountains and surrounding areas, where tourism keeps the community afloat.
"When people take a tumble or a fall the crash detection feature automatically calls 911, so since December 1 we have fielded a 155 false 911 calls at our dispatch center," Sheriff Pat Eliasen said.
The Lutsen Mountains is the largest ski resort in Minnesota. Cook County sees fake 911 calls from skiers on the mountains. Neighboring counties see more fake 911 calls from snowmobile accidents. (Fox News)
With a full-time population of around 5,200, Eliasen says only one dispatcher is working at a time.
"That dispatcher has to deal with these calls and make repeated callbacks and try to figure out if it's false or not. It takes a lot of time, and they’re also responsible for any inmates we have here," Eliasen said.
He estimates they’ve spent nearly 30 hours of manpower responding to these false calls.
Breckenridge, Colorado, is the largest town in Summit County. The county has four ski resorts, and they see the problem too.
"This just sent our dispatch center into overload because all of a sudden, these calls were coming in as ski season ramped up," Summitt County Communications Director Dave Rossi said.
Rossi said a team from apple even came out to Colorado to see the problem for themselves, and some changes were made. When a crash is detected, there is a 10-second delay followed by a 10-second countdown. Loud whoops notify the user to dismiss the automatic 911 call if it's not needed.
Dispatchers says this is taking away resources from people who actually need help. And in small, ski resort towns, there is sometimes only one dispatcher on duty to decipher between the false 911 calls and the real ones. (Fox News)
"People are in ski gear, and their phones are tucked away in ski pants, and puffy coats and people were not picking up their phones," Rossi said.
A lifelong skier, Rossi said if you’re skiing alone, he sees how crash detection could be helpful. But he hopes another upgrade could detect when a person is back up from a crash and cancel the 911 call if the phone picks up continued movement. He also says people doing outdoor activities need to be aware of the function.
"I would ask them to pick up their phone, take it out of their pocket especially after they may take a fall or any kind of serious impact it would be a great help to us," Rossi said.
The National Emergency Number Association has seen issues at ski resorts in Michigan and New York, but suspects most ski resort towns are dealing with the issue.
"It’s nerve wrecking when you get a new type of call, and you can’t make contact with the person who is wearing or carrying the device, it takes you away from other emergencies," April Heinze said.
"Apple has made very clear to any of the new device owners what is in their product, you need to know how to use that product," April Heinze, with the National Emergency Number Association, said (Fox News)
Heinze works with NENA as the 911 and Public Safety and Answering Point operations director. She says it’s nerve-wracking when dispatchers have to handle a call they’re unfamiliar with.
"It’s on the device owner to be accountable for what the device does," Heinze said. "If you are wearing and carrying a device that actually has crash detection or other types of emergency help, you need to know when you’re going down a ski slope or driving a go-kart on a track for fun, and you have all this protection around you, you need to turn those devices off or don’t carry those devices or turn that function off, it's as simple as googling it."
The crash detection feature can be turned off easily in settings, but first responders say people should turn it back on when driving.
Apple tells Fox they are aware of these fake 911 calls and have made updates to reduce the number of fake positive crash detections.
"We are committed to continually improving these features. Additional Crash Detection optimizations will be available in an upcoming software release," an Apple spokesperson said.