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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Apple watches spur ‘dramatic’ increase in 911 calls at Schweitzer Mountain, according to sheriff’s office

A skier rides up the Cedar Park Express at Schweitzer Mountain in 2020.  (Eli Francovich/The Spokesman-Review)

Skiers and snowboarders carrying Apple Smart watches have triggered a “dramatic increase in unintentional 911 calls,” according to the Bonner County Sheriff’s Office.

“Last Saturday, nearly 30% of our 911 calls were unintentional 911 calls from people enjoying activities on Schweitzer Mountain,” the sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post Thursday.

Schweitzer Mountain was unaware of that increase.

“That’s interesting – first I’ve heard of it,” Sean Mirus, the marketing director for Schweitzer, said in an email. “It wasn’t an unusually active day on the mountain.”

Apple watches and iPhone 14 and 14 Pros include fall detection technology. If the watch senses that the user is moving, it asks for them to respond and sends an alarm message if no response is given, then it automatically calls 911 within 20 seconds, according to Apple. If users are 55 or older, fall detection is automatically turned on. For users as young as 18, fall detection can be manually turned on.

Lookout Ski Resort on the Idaho-Montana border has only had one unintended 911 call stemming from an Apple Watch, said Matt Sawyer, the resort’s marketing director.

Sheriff offices near ski areas throughout the country have reported similar increases in calls, according to news reports. The problem, however, doesn’t seem widespread in the Spokane region.

“I think we’ve seen a few in general. But it’s not to the point where we have any concerns over it,” said Rick Anderson, the 911 coordinator for Stevens County. “It’s nothing we even worry about.”

He estimates the dispatch center gets a handful of unintentional Apple Watch calls from people enjoying time at 49 Degrees North every month. When an incomplete call does come in, Anderson said dispatchers call the number back. If unable to make contact, they alert ski patrol. Those calls haven’t created a “notable trend,” said Rick Brown, the director of skier and rider services at 49 Degrees North.

The Bonner County Sheriff’s Office, which hadn’t returned a phone call by press time, said in its Facebook statement that “our patrol deputies treat each 911 call as an emergency until we can verify otherwise. These unintentional 911 calls can take emergency resources away from true emergencies somewhere else in the county.”