“We’re able to see quickly where the call is coming from, so when we get one from Apple, the address will come up with their location,” said police dispatcher Jamie Hudson. Given the number of calls that have emanated from the location, 911 operators are able to ascertain that the call is likely not an emergency and move on to more pressing calls. However, it still takes away valuable time that that operators could be devoting towards people that actually have a real emergency.
“The times when it’s greatly impacting us is when we have other emergencies happening and we may have a dispatcher on another 911 call that may have to put that call on hold to triage the incoming call,” Hudson added.
Whenever a call comes through, the operators say that they can hear the Apple employees talking in the background about the work they're performing. Of course, the employees never respond, because they likely aren't aware that they have in essence "butt dialed" emergency services.
Dialing 911 can be invoked relatively easily on current Apple devices using the Emergency SOS feature. For example, on the iPhone X, holding down the power button and the volume up button brings up a prompt to dial emergency services (the command can also be activated by rapidly pressing the power button five times). Apple explains how Emergency SOS works on the iPhone X/iPhone 8/iPhone 8 Plus, writing:
Drag the Emergency SOS slider to call emergency services. If you continue to hold down the side button and Volume button, instead of dragging the slider, a countdown begins and an alert sounds. If you hold down the buttons until the countdown ends, your iPhone automatically calls emergency services.
On the Apple Watch, holding the side button for a few seconds will bring up the prompt to contact emergency services. However, it is not yet understood what actions that employees are taking that results in the false alarm calls being made in such a frequent manner.
For its part, Apple says that it is aware of the problem, and is working to address it. "We're aware of 911 calls originating from our Elk Grove repair and refurbishment facility," said an Apple spokesperson. "We take this seriously and we are working closely with local law enforcement to investigate the cause and ensure this doesn't continue."