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New tech features lead to non-emergency calls in Hawaii

It’s easier than ever to call for help in an emergency and now Apple features like crash detection can even call 911 for you. But first responders said they’ve seen an overwhelming number of accidental calls too.

Dispatchers said they have to treat every call as an emergency, and the hard part is trying to get the caller on the phone to see if it’s an emergency or not.

But these life-saving features have saved the lives of Hawaii residents too.

Dr. Jim Ireland, Honolulu Emergency Services Department, said they received a call for an irregular or fast heart rate. “The persons heart rhythm had changed which is called atrial fibrillation and somehow the watch detected that and told the person and 911 that the person had an irregular heart rate, and that is a risk for stroke, so that’s potentially an emergency.”

“We’ve also been notified for fall or crash detection, there’s something in the watch that can detect a sudden change in movement a deacceleration,” Dr. Ireland continued. “We got a call for a fall and we were provided with the persons number we tried to call, they didn’t answer and they had indeed fallen.”

The Honolulu Police Department said they don’t keep track of false-alarm emergency calls, but estimated they can receive up to two dozen unintentional calls from devices daily.

“We’ve also had false alarms, although we don’t have amusement rides here, we’ve been monitoring reports from the mainland when people wear their watches on roller coasters, and those rides that suddenly drop you three or four stories that does cause an alert to go to the local 911,” Dr. Ireland explained.

Other mainland dispatchers reported a slew of 911 calls in December 2022 and January 2023 from ski slopes, as the watches were detecting people stopping suddenly or falling on the slopes. When dispatchers tried to call back, many said their devices were hard to reach.

“The man was doing some ocean activity when he started having a heart attack,” explained Maui Emergency Services Dispatch Coordinator Davlynn Racadio.

Racadio said even though Maui dispatchers have seen an overwhelming uptick in accidental 911 calls, she said this man survived and it was because he was able to call for help from his watch.

“If we save one life we can’t complain because one life is worth everything,” she said.

Racadio said Maui County typically receives about 500 to 600 911 calls daily, but one random day in January 2023, they received 400 non-emergency calls.

“What happens is they’ll hear their watch or phone ringing and they’re looking like down and see 911, and think ‘Oh I didn’t do that,’ so they hit disconnect to hang up the call but — oh no we call you back,” said Racadio.

She said it’s important to let dispatchers know if it’s an emergency or not so proper resources can be deployed to emergencies, and emphasizes that dispatchers will try and get a hold of you via text or phone call if your device accidentally or intentionally calls 911.

Apple has had several iOS updates since the uptick of non-emergency calls was reported in January, dispatchers here say they’ve seen a slight decline since the update.

Source: KNON2