Authorities in Anoka County say in recent weeks they’ve been getting nearly twice as many 911 “hangups,” or calls without anyone on the line, after an apparent Android phone operating system update.
“We answer all the calls here at Anoka County 911: ‘What's the address of your emergency.’ And we don't get a response. And most of the time, you can hear things in the background. Sometimes you can't, because it's something's in a purse, in a pocket, (or a) backpack. So it's calling accidentally,” says Kari Morrissey, assistant director of emergency communications with Anoka County. “Our policy here is we treat these as a real call, because you do get the ones that are emergencies.”
That means an operator stays on the call until they can talk to someone and find out what’s going on — or, at the most extreme, staying on the phone while a deputy or a police officer drives to where the call came from to see what’s going on.
The number of 911 hangups roughly doubled from May 5 to June 5, Morrissey says. It’s a jump of nearly 2,000 calls over the month. It’s behind a nearly four percent increase in 911 calls to the county, Morrissey said.
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She said it has only been very recently that the calls started rising sharply and that some of the calls have been positively linked to Android phones.
It’s also got squad cars scrambling.
Aside from the calls, “the peace officers have to go out and, you know, respond to these calls, which, of course they do, in order to ensure that is it there is a safe environment, wherever it is,” said Tierney Peters, community relations coordinator with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office. “You know, we would never want to miss an emergency call.”
It isn’t clear what exactly set off the change. Android has included a feature since 2021 that dials an emergency call if a phone’s power button is pushed five times in a row. It’s designed as a safety feature, for people who can’t, or can’t safely, unlock a phone and dial on the screen.
Google, which offers and maintains the Android operating system, did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the issue from MPR News.
Apple had a similar issue recently. Its automatic crash detection technology, particularly on Apple watch devices, was inadvertently calling 911 to incorrectly report vehicle crashes.
The issue believed to be linked to Android has also been reported in Seattle, Ontario, and Florida.
In response, authorities are asking people to do two things: first, if users don’t think they will need the feature, officials are asking people to go into the settings on their Android phone settings and turn off the Emergency SOS feature, so calls aren’t accidentally triggered by repeated power button pushes.
And if you leave the feature on, or otherwise any time find your phone HAS called 911 without you realizing it, don’t ignore it.
“Please don't hang up,” said Peters, with the sheriff’s office. Many jurisdictions treat “open line” calls as potential threatening situations in which someone can’t safely talk or is incapacitated, and requires a response. “Please talk to the dispatcher on the other line.”