Today the Dunn County Sheriff's Office re-posted an article from the Badger State Sheriff's Association in regard to 911 calls coming from cell phones. Recent Android and Apple cell phones have emergency assistants that will call emergency services for you on command and optionally will also call a list of emergency contacts. Depending on exactly what phone is involved and the current operating system version, it may also do other things such as record video and provide it and your location with the emergency call. 

The statement was:

Android Emergency SOS Update – Reducing 911 Hangups  As you have likely heard there has been a significant uptick in the amount of accidental 911 calls across the country. This started with Apple several years ago and continues to be a problem with Apple since the launch of an emergency SOS feature which dials 911 by pressing the side button of your cell phone five times or more rapidly. Recently, Android added this same feature and it amplified the problem exponentially and 911 centers around the country have been flooded with accidental 911 calls. This last weekend we checked to see if there were any updates on his Android phone and there was an update. After the download, it was discovered that there were updates to the emergency SOS features. While it removed the capability to turn off the emergency SOS feature as was previously a feature, it added a “play warning sound” feature. We did some testing and found that the emergency SOS feature will now sound an audible alarm, but it will not automatically dial unless you confirm you want to dial 911 on your screen. A user can set up a timer so it will automatically dial, but that would have to be done by the user and is not an automatic feature. We then tested an Apple phone and found that, unfortunately, Apple has still not resolved the problem with Apple devices in that if the Emergency SOS is activated it will eventually call 911, many times without the users knowledge. We plan to work with state and federal partners to encourage Apple to follow suit with an update of their own. We are asking that anyone with an Android device, please check to see if there is an update available for your phone, and if so, please allow the phone to update. If an update is not available, please continue to check daily until that update becomes available. Updates push out at varying times depending on your cellular carrier and device model. Our recommendation is to not activate the timer but to leave the phone set as is after the update. Thank you for assisting our states busy 911 dispatchers in reducing the number of accidental 911 calls both here in Wisconsin and across the country.

I cannot speak knowledgeably about the Apple situation, (though Apple's instructions for using SOS calling are here) but as far as I can determine all Android phones require that this feature is specifically set up, and it does not come enabled by default. Let's try to unpack this. This feature is enabled on older Android devices by installing the Personal Safety App.  Personal Safety was originally exclusive to Pixel phones but is now available on many Android phones from other manufacturers. Phones using Android 13 will generally have this feature installed and will have more features. Google Pixel phones may have more features than others such as car crash detection and a personal safety time check which you can set and will contact your emergency contacts if you do not stop it from calling after a settable period of time. Many of these features have been available on at least Pixel Android phones for several years.  Generally, though, this feature will only call 911 or other emergency contacts after pushing the power button five times in succession, or after a car crash if your phone is capable of detecting that. I am not at all certain how pushing the power button five times is likely to happen by accident.  Phones running Android 13 can be set through the Personal Safety settings on the phone. The phone can also be set to sound a countdown alarm before it dials emergency services.  Owners of Pixel phones running older versions of Android can follow the instructions on Google's website for setting these features.  Generally these instructions will also work for non-Pixel phones that have the Personal Safety app. Those using newer Pixels (probably Pixel 4 and later) will be running Android 13 and will have more features available directly in the Safety and Emergency  section of their phone settings. 

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Steve Hanson

Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

Steve is a member of LION Publishers, is active in Health Dunn Right, and is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of the greater Chippewa Valley

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