2019-01-16

Smartphone users learn about 911 feature the hard way

by Keith Corcoran

iPhone users: Check your device settings.

Cautionary tales recently made the rounds on social media from local folks who've unintentionally discovered the power of a feature that makes a 911 call with a bump - or more - of a button.

Trina Mitchell believes the SOS feature on her iPhone activated while her device bounced freely in a shopping cart being wheeled to her vehicle.

"I had no idea it could be activated in such an easy way, and I'm not surprised to hear that others have had the same issue," the Bridgewater resident told LighthouseNOW in an email. "Since 911 is such a vital service, it's important to spread awareness on the issue so people can change their settings if desired."

Another woman posted on social media she disabled the feature after a 911 call was placed from her phone when it was in a cup-holder.

The Bridgewater Police Service lately has been responding to an average of a dozen 911 dispatches a month that turn out to be non-emergency erroneous calls, deputy police chief Danny MacPhee told LighthouseNOW in an interview. Some calls originated from the accidental activation of a smartphone 911 feature, but others are 911 calls coming from deactivated mobile devices or people trying to check voicemail.

MacPhee said law enforcement has to respond because officers don't know if there's a real emergency or not. There's still investigative time invested in the call, but if a 911 operator is able to determine the call isn't an actual emergency that alleviates some of the initial stress felt by the dispatched officers.

While MacPhee understands smartphones include special 911 characteristics for ease of access, he recommends those who've activated it by accident to shelve the feature.

"I don't see the value in using it if you're just consistently hitting it by mistake," he said.

"Some people don't know all the features on their phone and the capabilities of them," MacPhee added. "They're put there for safety but sometimes they'll create little headaches you're not ready for."

Tara Hendela, a spokeswoman for Apple, told LighthouseNOW the Emergency SOS features on the Apple Watch and iPhone "can be literal life savers."

She recommended going into "Settings" to better understand how the feature works and better manage it.

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