Apple Inc. released a software update this week, It wants to be able to prevent its devices from making unnecessary emergency calls, such as prompting search and rescue mission Police in remote areas of British Columbia and Alberta responded, though the company declined to elaborate on what changes it had implemented.
The company released a new “collision detection” system in September iPhones and Apple Watches have triggered at least four false alarms in B.C. over the past week. The feature is supposed to tell if someone has been in a serious crash, and if so, send a message to emergency officials or emergency contacts if the device user doesn’t disarm the alarm quickly.
Apple posted the update notes online, explaining that the patch includes “optimizations” for collision detection on its iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro models. The company declined to comment.
Canadian and U.S. authorities have expressed concern about the sensitivity of the collision detection system. Authorities believe three people were skiing or snowboarding at a resort since Dec. 10 in British Columbia after a snowmobile sparked the incident in a remote area.Collectively, these error messages trigger from Royal Canadian Mounted Police In British Columbia and Alberta, emergency medical services, search and rescue personnel in Golden, and ski patrol at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.
Officials from the British Columbia Search and Rescue Association met with Apple representatives on Wednesday, according to BCSARA manager Dwight Yochim. BCSARA initially called for a meeting to discuss its concerns about Apple’s Emergency SOS via satellite technology, but given the wave of false positives, the group used the meeting to seek information related to the company’s collision detection capabilities.
The crash-detection system uses accelerometers that listen for noises like shattering glass or crunching metal, and has a barometric pressure gauge that detects airbag activity, Mr. Yochim said. “They have all these things built in,” he said, noting that it’s not enough to prevent false activations. While Apple did not disclose the changes included in the patch, BCSARA encourages Apple users to update their devices and check their settings.
BCSARA first called for the meeting after Apple introduced a system that allows selected iPhones to call or send emergency services via satellite when they are out of range of cell phones and WiFi. (The collision detection system uses this system when WiFi and cell service are unavailable). The group fears the system will only send out outgoing messages, leaving would-be rescuers scrambling for more details.
However, Apple told BCSARA that this is a two-way communication system where search and rescue personnel can contact the company’s emergency response team directly to gather more information about a potential emergency, such as whether an object is moving or to be able to provide more details.
Mr. Yochim said Apple had “responsively very responsive” to the organization’s concerns about the SOS program and provided BCSARA with training materials for managers. Mr. Yochim said Apple offered to hold a webinar for search and rescue managers.
Kelly Furey, a spokeswoman for E-Comm 9-1-1, which runs emergency call centers in British Columbia, said her organization doesn’t count calls made through automated systems, such as Apple’s collision detection feature, but it knows “some Police agencies have been affected by these bogus 911 calls.” She said E-Comm had “informed” Apple of the issues.
Sonia Sinha, spokeswoman for Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services, said local 911 call centers in the province have not reported any “problems” with Apple’s collision detection program.
Ms. Sinha said Apple presented 911 professionals in Canada on Oct. 19 as part of a meeting of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) emergency services working group. “Apple explained how their new collision detection tool works, and they provided training and support resources,” she said in a statement, noting that more than 200 911 system workers were present.
The CRTC did not respond to messages seeking comment on the presentation and Apple’s erroneous emergency call.
A separate Apple system, designed to detect falls, also appears to be generating unnecessary messages. In Kimberley, British Columbia, about two weeks ago, search and rescue crews responded to an emergency message from an Apple device that indicated someone had “fallen hard,” Kimberley District Manager Patrick Reid said. The owner of the watch is training for cross country skating and has the Kimberley SAR as one of his emergency contacts. The skier did not fall.