Attorney General Ellison urges Google to resolve issue causing surge of inadvertent 911 calls
Recent Android software update causes many hundreds of inadvertent 911 calls per day, creates tremendous drain on emergency-response resources across Minnesota
June 29, 2023 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison today urged Google to immediately address an Android software issue that is causing a surge of inadvertent calls to 911 centers and resulting in a tremendous drain of emergency response resources.
In a letter to Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google, Attorney General Ellison highlights the dramatic increase in inadvertent 911 calls across Minnesota after Google’s mobile operating system, Android, introduced a software update to its Emergency SOS feature. The software update permits Android phones to initiate a call to local emergency services after five consecutive taps to the power button and will initiate a call to 911 unless it is cancelled by the user within seconds.
The update has resulted in a massive rise of accidental calls that are straining the resources of 911 centers across Minnesota. The City of Minneapolis, for example, stated it is receiving thousands of additional inadvertent calls each month to its 911 center. Anoka County said it has experienced a significant spike in calls and is now fielding hundreds of inadvertent calls each day. Greater Minnesota is also inundated with non-emergency calls: for instance, Ottertail County has reported that accidental 911 calls have doubled compared to the same period last year, resulting in hundreds of additional calls.
Attorney General Ellison stresses in this letter the immediate need to address this serious problem, because the calls are overwhelming 911 call centers and local law enforcement. Every call received by a 911 call center is treated as a potential actual emergency — including hang-up calls and open line calls (sometimes described as “pocket dials” because the caller is not aware they initiated a call and may not respond to the call-taker). In these cases, 911 call centers work to discern whether the call was accidental or if there is a real emergency that requires assistance. If the 911 call taker cannot confirm the call was an accident, then police or other law enforcement may be dispatched to assess if there is an actual emergency. This creates additional work for the 911 call centers and ties up emergency lines. It also diverts law enforcement and other emergency personnel from responding to other 911 calls and true emergencies.
“We Minnesotans count on 911 when we need emergency help, and 911 dispatchers and public safety telecommunicators are there for us every day, working calmly and selflessly to get us help from first responders as soon as possible. The recent Android software update has made their work much harder and the rest of us less safe. I am asking Google to immediately address this issue so that our emergency-response systems can continue to focus on keeping all of us safe.”
In the letter, Attorney General Ellison asks Google to immediately resolve the issue, and to provide detailed information about when and how the fix will be implemented.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communications Networks (“ECN”) has asked the public to learn how the Emergency SOS feature works on their personal devices because simply knowing how to activate the feature can reduce the chance of accidentally triggering it, particularly during high-movement activities. Also, ECN asks that if the public does call 911 by mistake, they should not hang up the call and instead let the dispatcher know the call was a mistake so they can end the call and move on to the next caller. Finally, if you do hang up on the 911 call, please be prepared to answer a follow-up incoming call or text from a ten-digit number you may not recognize. It may be the 911 call center calling you back to confirm whether or not you need an emergency response.