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911 call center inundated with calls from skiers' Apple devices

The small dispatch center received more than 500 of the automatic notifications in January, and is struggling to keep up with the false alarms.

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Good intentions sometimes have bad outcomes like the Apple automatic crash notifications on the latest iPhones and Apple watches. 

It's meant to call 911 when the owner of the device crashes and can't call themselves. 

“So we receive them in all different languages and it's an automated voice that says the owner of this device has taken a hard fall or taken a hard crash," said Trina Dummer, the interim director of Summit County 911. 

The problem is, many people skiing on Colorado slopes have no idea their phones are sending these alerts, as reported first by the New York Times. 

"My overall emotion, I would say frustrated," said Dummer. 

Dummer said of the hundreds of calls they receive, often times the owner of the device never responds to a callback from her dispatch center. 

When they do respond, Dummer said, “they’re like, 'I’m skiing, I’m so sorry' and they’re living their best life and I’m happy for them, but I don’t think people quite understand how frustrating it can be for their local dispatcher." 

In November, Dummer said Summit County Dispatch got 111 automatic crash notifications. In December the number they received was 338, and in January it was up to 524. 

"It's a significant percentage of our calls right now," she said.

Although many of these are false alarms, that doesn't stop her team of two call-takers from looking into every single one. 

The call will give the latitude and longitude coordinates, and if they can't reach the person, ski patrol will head to the location to check it out. 

"So it’s a very severe, abrupt experience for us as dispatchers," she said. "And, unfortunately, it’s kind of desensitizing us a little bit because we’re picking up so many of these throughout the day." 

Dummer isn't advocating to disable or to enable these alerts. 

She just wanted the owners of these Apple devices to be aware and responsible. 

She added that oftentimes people have 10 seconds to turn the notification off, but because they don't know it's happening, they don't realize this is an option. 

"I can see the benefit to this feature," said Dummer. "If people want to use it that's wonderful, just please understand how it works on your phone." 

Even when ski season comes to an end, Dummer isn't sure the automatic alerts will. 

"My concern now shifts a little bit toward how are we going to manage this in its new form on bike paths." 

Dummer has been in touch with Apple and said a representative from the company came to her dispatch center to watch what was happening.


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