Local police departments are seeing a significant increase in dropped 911 calls – and this may be related to the emergency 911 feature on your phone.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) are among several North American police departments asking people to turn off the emergency call feature on their Apple or Android phones and smartwatches.
The 911 emergency function allows users to quickly call 911 without unlocking their phone. On iPhones, it can be accessed by holding down the power button and volume button at the same time. On Androids, it appears when you press the power button five times in a row.
There are also reports of an increase in dropped 911 calls in other parts of Canada and in the US
Waterloo Regional Police said they typically receive about 800 emergency calls each day, but recently they started seeing an increase in dropped calls. As of Thursday morning, WRPS had received more than 330 dropped emergency calls in the space of just 24 hours, prompting them to send out a tweet asking people to turn off the emergency feature.
OPINION: OPP communications centers have seen a significant increase in 911 hangups. This may be tied to an Android update that enables Emergency SOS. You could easily call 911 without knowing it. Please check your phone. Make sure 911 lines are available for life-threatening emergencies. pic.twitter.com/E08xsUji6u
Police said in an emailed statement to Breaking: that such a high number of dropped 911 calls could strain their ability to answer legitimate emergency calls.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in Wellington County has also noticed a sharp increase in 911 hang-up calls. In an emailed statement, they said the dropped calls “appear to be related to an Android update.”
In a tweet sent at the end of May, the local OPP detachment posted instructions for disabling the emergency SOS feature on Android phones.
“Our main concern is to ensure that 911 lines remain available to those facing a life-threatening emergency,” OPP’s written statement to Breaking: said.
We have received over 330 cell phone calls in the past 24 hours.
Consider reviewing your Emergency SOS features on your mobile phone or smartwatch.
If you accidentally call 9-1-1, DO NOT hang up! Let us know if you are not in an emergency. pic.twitter.com/6F5wasTlL0
Android aware of the problem
In an email statement, a Google spokesperson told Breaking: that the company is aware of an increase in accidental emergency calls related to their “Emergency SOS” feature.
Google owns the Android operating system used by major smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung.
“Android phone manufacturers that choose to offer Emergency SOS on their devices will manage the implementation of the feature,” Google’s statement said.
“To help these manufacturers prevent accidental emergency calls on their devices, Android provides them with additional guidance and resources. We expect device manufacturers to roll out updates to their users that address this issue soon. Users who continue to experience this issue should switch to emergency calling SOS off for the next few days.”
Previous problems with iPhones, Apple Watch update
Apple did not respond to Breaking:’ request for comment on the emergency calling feature.
But the tech giant had previously been criticized for faulty updates when a recently launched crash detection software on the new iPhone 14 and Apple Watch 8 was found to be a little too sensitive.
The feature is primarily designed to detect when the users have been in a car accident. Once activated, a warning screen would appear and users would be given 20 seconds to respond before the iPhone or Apple Watch automatically called 911 with an approximate location.
While the software helped emergency services respond to real incidents, it was also accidentally caused by people riding roller coasters or skiing on bumpy trails.
Parks Canada reported receiving several fake 911 calls because of the new iPhone.
The new software had also accidentally launched several search and rescue in BC
A newer software upgrade in December seems to have fixed the issues with the crash detection feature.
It’s not clear if Apple is aware of the potential issues with the current emergency calling feature or if the company is working on an update to reduce accidental 911 calls.