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California 911 Dispatchers Frustrated with Deluge of Calls from Single Apple Repair Center (Editorial)

The California center has pushed out nearly 1,600 false alarm calls in the past few months, according to emergency dispatchers.

by Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle / February 23, 2018

(TNS) — There's a mystery afoot in California that may not be much of a mystery at all, if you know how the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system works.

Sacramento's KOVR-TV reports that emergency dispatchers at the Elk Grove police and Sacramento County sheriff's offices there have been flooded by 1,600 911 calls that apparently are coming from an Apple repair and refurbishing center nearby. The calls started in October, and have continued at the rate of about 20 a day.

When the calls come in, there's no one on the other end of the line, but dispatchers can sometimes hear people in the background talking about repairing Apple products.

Obviously, repeated 911 calls that aren't actually an emergency can create a problem for dispatchers.

"The times when it's greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call," Elk Grove police dispatcher Jamie Hudson said.

Apple told the TV station it's investigating the issue and vows to resolve it. But I suspect the company won't have to dig too deep.

That October 2017 date coincides with the release of iOS 11, the operating system on iPhones and iPads. That software includes a way to make quick emergency calls without having to unlock the phone. There's a similar feature in the latest version the Apple Watch software, too.

Called Emergency SOS, it's trigged on the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X by holding down the power button on the right side of the device and both volume buttons on the left. That brings up a screen with a slider that lets you initiate a 911 call.

But if you keep holding down the buttons, the 911 call automatically gets made. I found this out the hard way myself, shortly after buying an iPhone 8 Plus last year. The maneuver is similar to doing what's called a hard restart on an iPhone, in which you simultaneously press the power and volume down buttons to cause the device to reboot. I accidentally held down both volume buttons, and wound up talking to the City of Houston's 911 call center. Twice.


I suspect that one or more Apple techs at the Elk Grove repair center are placing iPhones to be fixed in some kind of clamp that presses the power and volume buttons and holds them down. You would think that a tech would turn the phone off before starting to work on it, but maybe not.

At the very least, the technique being used isn't standard for Apple, as we've not heard about these kinds of calls coming out of other repair centers around the country.

To trigger Emergency SOS on an Apple watch, you press and hold the power button on the right side. As with the iPhone, you get a screen with a slider for making an emergency call, and if you keep holding the button, the 911 call starts automatically.

On an iPhone 7 series and older, press the power button five times rapidly to trigger Emergency SOS.

You can disable auto-calling on the iPhone by going to Settings > Emergency SOS and tapping the Auto-Call slider. On the Watch, you can disable it via the Watch app on your phone by going to Settings > Emergency SOS and tapping the Hold to Auto-Call slider. If you need to make an emergency call quickly, you'll still be able to move the slider to initiate it.

©2018 Houston Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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