Japan Skiers’ Smartphones Making Unnecessary Emergency Calls

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Local fire departments near skiing areas are struggling with a spate of unnecessary emergency calls that are being made automatically by people’s smartphones when they fall down on the slopes.

Some of the newest smartphone models have a feature that automatically triggers an emergency call when they detect a strong impact. The Fire and Disaster Management Agency of the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry is calling for smartphone users to be cautious with this feature.

According to the agency, most of these calls come from models belonging to Apple Inc.’s iPhone 14 series, which has an automatic emergency function based on the scenario of a vehicle collision. When an impact is detected by the phone, its screen displays an emergency call slider with an alert such as “It looks like you’ve been in a crash,” and sounds an alarm.

The user can cancel the action, but if they do not do so within a certain period of time, the phone makes an emergency call and plays an audio message to tell emergency services that its owner has been in an accident.

The Fire Department Kita-Alps Nagano, which has jurisdiction over Hakuba and four other municipalities in Nagano Prefecture, received 919 emergency calls between Dec. 16 last year and Jan. 23. Of these, 134 were false calls from nearby ski areas, triggered mainly by the automatic function.

The system is believed to have activated when a smartphone user fell or collided with someone else while skiing or snowboarding.

The department usually calls the number to check the situation when it receives an automated alert but there is no follow-up from the smartphone’s user. If the user does not answer, the department calls again sometime later, which puts a burden on operations.

The automatic function can be switched off. However, a firefighter with the department said, “It’s an effective function in the event of a really serious accident, so we can’t ask users to turn it off.”

The Gujo City Fire Department in Gifu Prefecture, which has many ski resorts within its jurisdiction, received 351 emergency calls between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23. Nearly 40% — 135 calls — were made erroneously.

“If you realize you’ve made a false call, please inform the person who answers of the mistake. We also ask that you always answer the return call” from the fire department, an official of the agency said.