BOISE, Idaho — As snow on the slopes piles up, so have the number of false alarm 911 calls to local law enforcement agencies.
While the winter weather can be dangerous, it’s also perfect for shredding the gnar. But skiers and snowboarders have been creating a rise in 911 calls coming from smartwatch fall detection features.
Most smartwatches and phones have a form of crash detection built in. That feature automatically calls 911 when it detects a crash or hard fall – something that can happen daily on ski hills, but those falls are leading to some unnecessary calls coming from local ski resorts.
“Now that the snow is here, we’re getting them all the time,” said Cpl. Cole Reeder with the Boise County Sheriff’s Office. “Whether it’s on the weekday – and especially really heavy on the weekends.”
Bogus Basin is located inside Boise County, so 911 calls coming from the mountain go to the sheriff’s office.
“Our dispatch center is usually comprised of one person,” Reeder said.
One dispatcher – who has to handle a high number of skiers and snowboarders accidentally calling 911 through the fall detection feature on their smartwatches and phones.
“When we get 20 to 30 calls a day that are those fall detection crashes going through our 911 center, that can be very overwhelming for dispatcher,” Reeder said. “It can be hard for them to focus on an actual 911 call that would require emergency services.”
It’s a long trip for the Boise County Sherriff’s Office to make it to Bogus, so they have a partnership with ski patrol they can leverage before sending deputies up the mountain.
The false alarm calls aren’t just happening at Bogus Basin. The Valley County Sherriff’s Office has also had an increase in false alarm calls from their local ski resorts, and they expect those numbers to increase with more skiers and snowboarders heading to resorts.
If you accidentally call 911, Reeder said the best thing to do is stay on the line and tell dispatch that you are okay.
If you don’t stay on the line, dispatch will try and call back, often multiple times.
“If you do get a voicemail or something of that sense on your phone, it’s still imperative to call us back, just to let us know that everyone is indeed alright,” Reeder said.
Leaving dispatch to decipher where a call is an emergency or not can take a toll on limited resources in a small county that’s seeing a big influx of visitors.
“Our county population is right around 8,000 people, and on a weekend that population could be easily upwards of 50,000. Sometimes even in the summer it can be upwards of 100,000 people,” Reeder said. “So, just the amount of taxable resources that we have, it can really put a strain on those resources.”
The sheriff’s office isn’t asking skiers and snowboarders to turn off the feature – though that is possible – because crash detection helps save lives in real emergencies. When you’re on a ski hill, it’s worth checking your smartwatch regularly to make sure you haven’t accidently called 911.
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