Apple Watch and iPhone crash detection software an issue for search and rescue crews

Click to play video: 'Apple software an issue for rescue groups'
Apple software an issue for rescue groups
WATCH: It's touted as a feature that could save lives, but for some search and rescue groups, it's proving to waste a lot of time. Software on newer Apple Watches and iPhones has alerted emergency crews to people in distress when there was no one to rescue them. As Julie Nolin reports, users are being encouraged to download a new update to keep precious resources free – Dec 15, 2022

Search and rescue organizations are warning hikers and wilderness enthusiasts about relying too much on technology if they get lost or need help.

One of the new features on the iPhone and Apple Watch is crash detection. It is designed to detect car crashes and if needed, alert the local authorities.

“It’s quite sophisticated,” Dwight Yochim, a senior manager with the B.C. Search and Rescue Association told Global News.

“It recognizes a sudden change in speed, sound of crunching metal and glass and even the airbag deploying. But for whatever reason, people in the backcountry and maybe it’s just our B.C. backcountry enthusiasts, they’re just hardcore, and the falling and the kind of crashing through the woods literally is setting it off.”

Yochim said so far, rescue crews have received three reports of someone falling, only to discover they are fine.

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After speaking with Apple, he said they issued an update on Wednesday so they are urging everyone to make sure their software is updated.

Click to play video: 'Search and rescue crews warn fall hikers to be prepared'
Search and rescue crews warn fall hikers to be prepared

“We have to respond because we don’t know what the situation is,” Yochim added. “If it’s an actual emergency or not.”

He said some of their volunteer members have even left work to go on a search, or needed to dispatch the helicopter, only to find the person safe, creating a potential issue for a real call that could come in and need those resources.

“We do 2,000 calls a year now. And we did a report a couple of years ago that showed that we’re probably going to hit 3,000 in about 10 years. So the more of these false calls we have, the more time it takes away from our members,” Yochim said. “They’re putting in 400,000 hours now in training, administration and incidents. And so every one of these calls is four or five hours for a dozen people to respond. Then you find out there’s some puzzled subject at the end going, ‘I didn’t even realize I activated it’.”

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Jim Loree, a search manager with North Shore Rescue, told Global News these false calls can take up many resources.

“If it’s a false call, it doesn’t come in as a false call,” he said. “We take everything as an emergency and someone needs help until we learn otherwise.”

Loree said North Shore Rescue has not had any of these Apple false calls as of yet – the others were in the Interior and the Kootenays.

“Be aware of what technology you have and how it works,” he added.

Click to play video: 'Busy start to the summer for North Shore Rescue'
Busy start to the summer for North Shore Rescue

Yochim said if someone is out of cell range and gets into trouble, they should activate an SOS beacon on their cell phone and crews will know where the person is located at least.

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However, he said they should also have gear to be able to survive overnight, food, water and something to build a fire with if necessary.

Yochim also recommended that everyone should tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back.

“Leaving that plan behind and letting people know exactly where you’ve gone and when you plan to be back is again helpful,” he said. “Helps us help you.”

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