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Apple Watch Fall Feature Triggers False Emergency Calls At Ski Areas

VAIL, Colo. (CBS4)- It's a feature on the new Apple Watch that is designed to save lives. However, the smart watch is creating some frustration among emergency dispatch centers in ski resort towns across Colorado.

Dozens of false, accidental Apple Watch fall calls are being cataloged, according to information obtained exclusively by CBS4.

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The new Apple Watch Series 4 offers users a free equipped technology capable of detecting when someone has fallen. The problem is when skiers hit the slopes they forget to turn off the service. The Christmas and New Year's holidays brought thousands of visitors to the High County, and apparently, many of them received new watches from Santa.

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Vail and Summit County first responders treat the 911 calls from the watch as a real emergency each time, sending crews to GPS locations provided by the watch.

Marc Wentworth with the Town of Vail says they are well aware of the challenges.

One 911 call from an Apple Watch obtained by CBS4 to the Vail Dispatch demonstrates what dispatchers are encountering. The 911 operator first hears a robot voice before the watch user gets on the call and says "he is okay."

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But many users fail to realize the call has been made. While this person continues skiing, emergency responders are on a "wild goose chase to find them."

Apple officials credit the watch for saving numerous lives. The company says the function can easily be disabled when someone is doing an activity like skiing or karate when they may fall, but don't need medical attention.

The new technology is a game changer for senior citizens who may need help and are unable to call. Here's how it works: If a person wearing the watch takes a hard fall, a message on the watch face prompts the person wearing it to select "Emergency SOS" or "I'm OK."

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If the user is motionless for 60 seconds afterward, the watch automatically places a call to emergency responders, and sends a message to local dispatch with the location according to Apple's website.

According to Apple's website, a gyroscope inside the watch allows it to analyze the wearer's "wrist trajectory and impact acceleration."

The function is disabled when the watch arrives from the manufacture but it appears many users either turn it on by mistake before hitting the slopes or forget to disable it.

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Vail first responders say the challenge is knowing if the person has activated for a real emergency fall or a simple mistake and is unaware the call for help has even been sent.

"If that call comes in and we are in the middle of an accident with 50 or 60 phone calls on the accident, those calls are coming in people that actually have emergencies are being put on hold to answer these 911 calls that aren't," said Vail dispatch supervisor Bonnie Collard.

Summit County Dispatch says they received 10 to 12 false fall calls in recent weeks, but one call was for an actual victim who did need medical assistance.

Summit Rescue Group volunteers were requested for three of those calls with the Summit County Sheriff and local emergency responders responding to the rest.

LINK: Apple Watch Fall Detection

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