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Pocket 911 calls jump in Guelph, Wellington after Android update

Accidental 911 calls to Guelph police were up about 25 per cent in May, compared to April
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Has your Android phone dialed 911 by accident in the last month?

Turns out, you're definitely not alone. Both Guelph police and Wellington County OPP have seen accidental 911 calls rise in the month of May. 

And it may have to do with a recent Android software update that activated an Emergency SOS feature.

"(Accidental 911) calls in May were up approximately 25 per cent from April, which was up slightly from March," said Guelph police spokesperson Scott Tracey.

He said between 7 a.m. Thursday and 7 a.m. Friday alone, the Guelph police dispatch centre got more than 150 accidental 911 calls or 911 hang-ups. Tracey said that was quite unusual for a one-day span, but it could also have to do with the fatal crash at Stone Road Mall Thursday afternoon.

"I know from my experience in dispatch that whenever there is a major incident in a densely-populated area, everyone calls 911 and then realizes everyone else is calling and hang up without providing information," he said. "Our communicators can’t assume that’s what happened and must follow up each call.

"The likely large number of calls about that incident, coupled with the general increase in accidental and hang-up calls we discussed, lead to that extraordinarily high number."

Wellington County OPP, meantime, have seen accidental 911 calls go up in the last couple months.

Officers were dispatched 42 times in May to calls that "couldn't be resolved at the communications centre."

That's up slightly from the 41 in April and 30 in March.

Both did not attribute the rise directly to the update.

Tracey points out 911 communicators don't usually ask what type of phone someone is calling from.

However, a tweet from the provincial OPP suggests the rise in its calls may be linked to the update that automatically turned on an Emergency SOS feature.

"You could easily dial 911 without knowing," the tweet read. "Please, check your phone. Ensure 911 lines are available for life-threatening emergencies."

It's not just an Ontario problem. Last month, RCMP in British Columbia said its dispatch centres were experiencing the same issue.

It noted with the new Android Emergency SOS feature, 911 is called automatically when the side button key is pressed five times successively on an Android phone with the feature turned on.

"Android phone users are encouraged to turn off the Emergency SOS feature on their phones and prevent accidental calls to 911," the RCMP said in a news release on May 18.

You can turn off the feature on your phone by going into settings, clicking on the safety and emergency section and sliding the toggle to turn it off.

Wellington County OPP spokesperson Josh Cunningham said cell phone users should be proficient with their technology, adding there are some features that may or may not benefit a user.

"Cell phone users can dramatically reduce the number of pocket dials by carrying their phone in a holster and/or making sure that the keypad is locked." he said.

"Don’t make 911 part of your programmed auto dialing.  With so many types of cell phones and accessories on the market, people are also encouraged to read their user manual or contact their cell phone provider to find out what options are available to ‘pocket dial proof’ their phone."

Both Guelph police and the OPP say accidental 911 calls have a significant impact on resources.

"This can involve calling or texting the number back, contacting telecommunications providers to determine the owner of the phone and checking police records to determine whether that person or telephone number has been involved in previous incidents which required a police response," Tracey said.

"In some cases, police officers can be dispatched to subscribers’ addresses or the estimated location of the call to determine wellbeing."

To negate the extra work, if you call 911, no matter the circumstances, you're asked to stay on the line and speak to the communicator and provide information, explain how the call happened and confirm if there's no emergency.

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Mark Pare

About the Author: Mark Pare

Mark is a longtime journalist and broadcaster, who has worked in several Ontario markets.
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