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B.C. search and rescue warns nature goers about relying on tech in the wilderness

Reminder comes amidst rise in false emergency calls being sent by Apple products
Multiple fake emergency calls have been sent out by Apple products in rural B.C. areas in the last couple of weeks. (Kimberley SAR/Special to The News)

A series of false emergency calls from Apple products have been plaguing the province lately and forcing emergency crews to help people that aren’t in any danger.

Ryan Smith, team manager for Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue, explained that this problem with iPhones and Apple Watches is something that rescue crews all throughout the province are familiar with. He said their team hasn’t personally had to deal with it, but he knows others have.

“We have been made aware of the issue.”

All of this stems from the new crash detection feature, which is available on the Apple Watch Series 8, Apple Watch Ultra, Apple Watch SE (2nd generation), iPhone 14, and iPhone 14 Pro.

These devices use internal sensors to detect severe force, which they interpret as a crash and respond to by displaying an alert alongside an alarm. If the user fails to respond to the alarm within 20 seconds, the device will then make a call to emergency services.

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In many of the instances where these calls have been made despite the user not being involved in an incident, the person was skiing, snowboarding, or snowmobiling.

With the latest iOS update from Apple, this crash detection feature has been optimized. However, Apple has yet to confirm whether these optimizations will lead to fewer false alerts being made.

Of the 38 rescue calls that Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue has responded to this year, Smith said none of them have come as a result of this issue with Apple’s crash detection. However, he still warned that this is only one way that search and rescue teams receive false calls.

“There are many reasons for false calls, such as subjects not reporting their return to family members who then think they are still in the backcountry, and misdialled 911 calls,” said Smith. “We also respond via our partner agencies of police, fire, and EHS, when receiving calls such as dropped 911 calls in the backcountry.”

Smith explained that this should be a lesson to anyone planning on going into backcountry areas, that they can’t entirely rely on their technology to help them out in the wilderness.

“While we support the use of technology as an aid to keep people safe, it can be a double-edged sword in that people may rely upon it too much, causing issues when it fails or is misused. We encourage anyone venturing into our region to always be prepared if technology fails, carry and know how to use the 10 essentials, and leave a trip plan.”

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