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Crash Detection false alerts from skiers stresses 911 centers

Apple’s Crash Detection feature is undoubtedly saving lives, but there are continuing concerns about the strain placed on 911 centers by false alerts. One center says that dealing with Crash Detection false alerts from skiers and snowboarders can prove extremely time-consuming.

Apple is reportedly working with 911 centers to get a better understanding of the issues …

Crash Detection

Crash Detection is a feature on all iPhone 14 models, as well as the Apple Watch Series 8, 2nd-gen Apple Watch SE, and Apple Watch Ultra. It is intended to automatically detect car crashes, and to call 911 if you don’t respond to an alert.

Apple says it uses a mix of laboratory crash tests and real-world crash data, and uses four different types of data.

Sudden speed shifts: A new high g‑force accelerometer senses extreme accelerations or decelerations up to 256 Gs.

Abrupt changes in direction: A high dynamic range gyroscope monitors drastic changes in a car’s orientation.

Cabin pressure changes: The barometer can detect pressure changes caused by deploying airbags.

Loud sound levels of impact: While you’re driving, the microphone identifies the extreme sound levels of a collision. For privacy, all processing is done on your iPhone.

Accidental triggering by roller coasters

It wasn’t long before it was discovered that roller coasters could cause accidental alerts.

Kings Island and Dollywood amusement parks have noticed a trend stemming from customers with an iPhone 14 or a new Apple Watch. Kings Island has seen Crash Detection triggered falsely by the park’s roller coasters at least six different times, and Dollywood has seen the issue enough that it is putting out signs asking people to not bring the devices on rides or power them down.

Crash Detection false alerts from skiers and snowboarders

In November, the start of the ski season saw Crash Detection false alerts from skiers and snowboarders – with Park City, Utah, one example. The alerts are usually generated when someone falls, but mostly without any injury.

Summit County Dispatch Center supervisor Suzie Butterfield shared they are seeing “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.”

Strain being placed on 911 centers

The New York Post reports that other 911 centers covering popular ski resorts are finding the same problem – and it can take considerable time to deal with the calls.

Since the beginning of ski season, a crash detection feature has caused 911 centers near ski mountains to be overwhelmed with accidental, automated calls from fallen skiers’ and snowboarders’ phones and watches.

Upstate New York’s Greene County 911 center – which fields calls from popular ski destinations Windham and Hunter Mountains – saw a 22 percent surge in hang-ups, open lines, and misdialed 911 calls last December compared to December 2021.

The problem, again, is that iPhone and Apple Watch owners usually don’t know the call has been made, as their device is under layers of winter clothing and they don’t hear the alert.

When the owner doesn’t realize that their phone is dialing 911, the officers will take steps like tracking the Apple device’s location and sharing it with the mountain’s ski patrol, according to DiPerna. 

“Worst case scenario, we’re trying to figure out where you are, what went wrong and what resources we have to send out to take care of that. It can go from a 30 second phone call to God knows how long,” said 911 Communications Director Jim DiPerna […]

Pennsylvania’s Carbon County Communications Center now takes up to 20 automated crash detection calls a day from snowbirds at Jack Frost, Big Boulder and Blue Mountain ski areas – an uptick that Assistant 911 Manager Justin Markell describes as “taxing” for his team.

Emergency centers have to assume the worst, so if the iPhone or Apple Watch owner doesn’t hear a return call, rescue teams have to go out looking for them.

Apple has already made attempts to address the issue, and said that it is collecting feedback from 911 centers on these false alerts to see what more it can do.

9to5Mac’s Take

Many cars are fitted with similar automated crash-detection, and it’s always a tricky balancing act. Too many false alerts can place a strain on emergency services – potentially diverting rescue crews from real emergencies – while turning down the sensitivity can result in real crashes going undetected.

While it’s right to be concerned about the additional strain on 911 centers, most emergency services personnel say they would rather err on the side of caution, and receive too many false alerts than miss real ones.

Anyone engaging in activities that might trigger false alerts can help by checking their devices after a fall, to ensure that an emergency call hasn’t been made without your knowledge. If it has, the advice is to call back to let the operator know that you are okay. Don’t be concerned about making a 911 call in this situation: You are helping ensure that emergency resources are not wasted looking for you.

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