SOS functions leading to thousands of accidental 911 calls

Reality Check

It’s not so much people are actually dialing 9-1-1, but with SOS features built into our phones, something as simple as an attempt to turn up the volume on your phone can trigger an emergency response.

“It happens a lot,” said Jim Lake, the Director of the Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch Center. He says since January more than 12,000 accidental 9-1-1 calls have come into the dispatch center. While they can’t say for sure how many were triggered by an SOS function, they have to treat them like someone needs help.

“Because we’ve had so many instances where we have called back and it was somebody trying to reach us,” Lake said. “Maybe they were in a violent situation and somebody forced them hang up so we have had so many of those that we do have to call each one back we just can’t ignore it.”

That takes time.

Lake says each open line or hangup call is returned by the first available call-taker. If someone answers and confirms it was accidental, the line is cleared and the crisis is quickly averted. 

However, when people ignore the call-back, they start tying up resources as call-takers use technology to track your call and find out where you are.

“All of that if somebody doesn’t stay on the line, you know we’re talking minutes, but those are minutes that someone’s tied up that they can’t be answering another call,” Lake said.

The Apple Watch is also equipped with the SOS feature. Since January, 476 accidental calls from Apple Watches came into Charleston County. It’s life-saving technology, and Lake says part of that is dealing with accidental calls.

The biggest takeaway; know your device.

In the iPhone, there are two ways to trigger that SOS. Either press and hold the sleep button and one of the volume buttons. Or rapidly press the sleep button five times. You can disable that one, .by going through your settings…and opening the SOS emergency menu.

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