July 5, 2023 at 6:18 p.m. PST
- Apple added Emergency SOS in iOS 16, providing rapid access to emergency services.
- With multiple methods of calling for help, some iPhone owners accidentally call emergency services.
- Crash Detection and Fall Detection (Apple Watch) can sometimes trigger false SOS calls.
- Hanging up the Emergency SOS call immediately will typically disengage emergency services, with no further action necessary.
What is Emergency SOS?
Emergency SOS is a new iOS 16 feature, making it easier to send a distress call to authorities and emergency contacts, along with location and medical data. All iPhones capable of running iOS 16 support this feature.
All new iPhone 14 models, including Apple’s non-pro smartphones, support Emergency SOS via Satellite. With a new Qualcomm chip, the latest iPhones can communicate with satellites without a bulky antenna. If you’re using an older iPhone, you can still use Emergency SOS; however, the feature will not function if you don’t have cell coverage or Wi-Fi.
How to Make Emergency SOS Call
Users can trigger Emergency SOS in various ways, which is why it’s often set off accidentally. The simplest way to call for help on an iPhone is to press the Side button five times quickly. Doing so will display a countdown. At the end of the countdown, your iPhone will call 911 or the appropriate emergency number in your country. You can also slide the SOS Emergency Call control for a faster response.
On newer iPhones, you can press and hold the volume up or down button while holding the Side button. You’ll see a screen with power-off and SOS Emergency Call sliders. Slide your finger across the SOS Emergency Call control to call for help.
If you’ve entered your Medical ID in the Health app, you can also transmit this to authorities. A slider labeled Medical ID appears on the Emergency SOS screen. Transmit your Medical ID to dispatchers by sliding your finger over this control.
The newest iPhones have a Crash Detection feature that will automatically call for help if your device senses g-forces from a car accident. Some life experiences like amusement parks, skateboarding, and other rough activities could trigger this, but it’s unlikely. Apple is pretty good at figuring out when you’re in your car. Nonetheless, these systems aren’t infallible and could result in a false alarm.
It’s possible, but highly unlikely, to initiate a distress call accidentally, but it happens because there are many ways to do so. The Apple Watch has a new Fall Detection feature. This will initiate a distress call if your watch thinks you fell. Certain sporting activities could likely set this off. If you’re doing martial arts or playing football with an Apple Watch, you may want to turn off Fall Detection.
There’s an incredible story on Reddit about how a skateboarder fell and his Apple Watch called for help. He was OK and dismissed the call, but it really works! For some sports, like skateboarding and rock climbing, it’s a potential lifesaver.
In my research, one site claimed that “butt dialing” could set off an emergency call. This is highly unlikely, as a pocketed iPhone stops receiving touch input. It will also reject touch control if your iPhone is in a purse or bag. Apple is good at figuring out if you’re using your iPhone or if it’s in a pocket or bag.
With all of these ways that your iPhone can initiate an emergency call, false alarms happen all the time. Don’t worry. Unless you do this abusively and pervasively, you won’t get in trouble for an accidental emergency call. Let’s look at how to handle this situation.
How to Cancel an iPhone Emergency SOS Call
In most cases, sending off an emergency call on an iPhone is a two-step process. Unless it’s an automated call, based on crash or fall detection, it must be user-initiated. If you accidentally launch the screen with the SOS slider, press the side button once to exit. Since you never completed an emergency call, the side button dismisses the Emergency SOS slider screen.
If your call went through, hang up immediately. In most cases, emergency services will ignore the call. In some locations, they may call back. If so, tell the dispatcher that it was an accident. If it’s really a mistake and you’re not doing it all the time, authorities typically won’t charge you with a crime.
It’s unlikely to be charged and convicted of a misdemeanor, even if the emergency call was a mistake. Reviewing legal codes, most jurisdictions make an exception for mechanical activations.
For example, in Edmonds, Washington, one can be charged with a misdemeanor for issuing a false distress call, resulting in a $1000 fine and 90 days in jail. But the municipality has an exception for mechanical activations. The law aims at prosecuting intentional harassment of emergency operators and dispatchers.
In most instances, even if the police show up at your house, if it’s accidental, they understand. In general, police get so many of these false alarms from Apple and other devices they routinely dismiss it.
Keep Countdown Sound Activated
The Countdown Sound for Emergency SOS is a great way to prevent accidental emergency calls. With this feature activated, an audible countdown precedes the emergency call, allowing you to cancel the call.
This feature is activated by default, but you may have accidentally switched it off. You can check if it’s activated by opening the Settings app and tapping on Emergency SOS. If the Countdown Sound is switched on, you’ll be able to cancel any emergency call before it’s completed by pressing the side button once.
Of course, there are good reasons to turn this feature off. If you’re under duress, the countdown sound will tip off your captors that you’ve contacted the police. They probably won’t be too happy about it. If it’s possible that you may be in some home invasion or hostage situation, turning off this feature is a good idea.
Ideally, Apple should add a duress shortcut for emergency calls, so one can leave the feature on to avoid accidents but issue a silent distress call when necessary. Many home alarm systems enable homeowners to issue a silent distress call but make it look like they turned off the alarm. It’s a life-saving feature that Apple should add as soon as possible.
In some cases, issuing audible distress may encourage criminals to flee. Other times, they may choose to retaliate. It’s best to allow the end user to respond appropriately during a crisis.
Consider Shutting Off Emergency Dialing Options
The iPhone’s various emergency calling shortcuts are helpful if you’re in distress and cannot fully use your phone. For example, if you’re trapped or incapacitated, maybe pressing the side button five times is all you can do. For most people, I encourage activating all emergency call shortcuts.
If you’ve accidentally set off Emergency SOS multiple times and the cops warned you that you have one more chance, you may want to disable these shortcuts. Simply open the Settings app and tap on Emergency SOS. Then switch off every option for invoking the feature.
You should only do this if absolutely necessary. Ideally, you want the most protection possible. I even recommend buying an Apple Watch for Fall Detection, which could save your life.
Why Not Call 911?
You can call 911 if you prefer. In fact, if you live in the United States, Emergency SOS does just that.
The reason why many prefer Emergency SOS is that it’s easier to launch. If someone is breaking into your home, you can issue a distress call in so many ways.
For those who have “Hey Siri” activated, issuing a hands-free distress call is easy. Say, “Hey Siri, call 9-1-1,” and your iPhone’s digital assistant will call for help.
If You’re Curious About Emergency SOS via Satellite, Try the Demo
For those with the newest iPhone 14 models, you can test out the new Emergency SOS via Satellite feature with an interactive demo. It actually communicates with one or more satellites! Try it out before you depart on an off-the-grid journey. Since this is a fully-functional demo, you can actually communicate with satellites without worrying about falsely reporting an emergency.
It’s incredible that an iPhone can communicate with a satellite without a massive antenna. No other smartphone can do this. In many ways, Apple has lost its way, but Emergency SOS via Satellite reminds us that the Cupertino tech giant can still innovate once in a while. This isn’t a parlor trick. It’s a killer feature that justifies purchasing an iPhone.
Launching the demo is easy. Simply open the Settings app, tap on Emergency SOS, scroll down to the bottom of the screen, and tap on Try Demo. Your iPhone will lose cellular connectivity during the demo. Don’t do it while you’re expecting important calls.
I tried out the demo a few times. It’s pretty amazing. It really works! Emergency SOS via Satellite gives me the peace of mind that my iPhone can contact first responders no matter where I am in the world.