JACKSON, Wyo. — Crash detection technology that was unveiled in September with the release of Apple’s new iPhone 14 has been the source of numerous accidental callouts to Teton County Search and Rescue’s (TCSAR) dispatch center, costing the team significant time and resources.
And here’s the kicker: it hasn’t saved anybody.
On opening day at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, TCSAR received half a dozen false callouts. Not a single of which required assistance, in fact, the team has never received a callout triggered by the crash detection functionality that has led to a necessary rescue. Even worse, TCSAR hasn’t been alerted when real crashes occur.
“This [technology] is problematic, to say the least,” Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said.
Carr says the tech is not only being triggered in bounds but in the backcountry as well, and it’s costly.
On Saturday, TCSAR received a call from Lincoln County in what they assumed was a snowmobile crash detected by Apple’s new technology. Dispatchers heard an individual “anguishing in pain,” and upon request from Lincoln County, TCSAR dispatched its helicopter.
But upon locating the individual via helicopter, TCSAR found that the detection was just a false alarm and the individual didn’t require the team’s help at all.
“They told us that yes, they did crash and the guy hurt his shoulder. But he assured us he was now ‘several beers’ into the day and feeling no more pain,” Carr said.
That’s the sort of thing that worries Carr.
“There’s a risk every time you put the helicopter in the air.”
Defective crash technology isn’t totally new to TCSAR. Several years ago, OnStar presented the same issue and more recently a tracking app called Life360 did too. Due to its inaccurate callouts, TCSAR had to make the tough decision to no longer respond to calls from those sources.
“If [the Apple tech] continues to become a problem, we’re going to have to do what we did with the Life360 app. We will just have to say we can’t take these calls.”
According to Carr, the tech has put a huge burden on dispatchers. It presents the same question over and over: How exactly do they know when to ring the bell?
The current approach for dispatchers is simply listening in to the call for signs of distress and first trying to make contact with the subject. They will also make an assumption based on whether or not the individual has moved as a callout gives SAR access to their location.
But at the end of the day, it’s not a fair position to put dispatchers in, says Carr.
“We’re not going to press the go button unless we have confirmation and that’s also not what Apple is selling people.”
But Carr isn’t against all of Apple’s new technology. As a matter of fact, he’s a huge fan of its new Emergency SOS Satellite feature. This summer, a group from Apple went out to areas in Teton County with no cell service and tested the satellite functionality of the new iPhone 14. It worked great.
“When they were out here I was very pointed with them. I said look this is great, you’re going to take the ‘Search’ out of Search of Rescue, but I’m also very concerned about this crash detection stuff,” said Carr.
At the time, Carr predicted it would cause his dispatch center a ton of headaches, but Apple didn’t want to talk about it. Since then, Carr has reached out to Apple numerous times and received no response.
So what’s the solution before there’s a fix?
“My message is if you can turn off the functionality of crash detection please do,” Carr said.
Search and Rescue teams across North America are also suggesting that users update their devices. Although, TCSAR is still receiving false callouts.
Apple users can manage and read more about crash detection functionality here.