When there’s an emergency, you want quick, reliable access to help. What you don’t want is for that access to be so quick and so reliable you end up calling 911 by complete accident. Unfortunately, that is the state of emergency services on iPhone and Android, and if you’re reading this, you might be well aware of how easy it is to waste first responders’ time with a 911 misdial. Let’s fix that.
Emergency SOS is responsible for many accidental 911 calls
On both iPhone and Android, a feature called Emergency SOS is the root of these false alarm calls to emergency services. On the surface, it’s a great feature; Emergency SOS dials 911 for you with a simple shortcut. When time is of the essence, it’s obviously important to get a hold of these services as fast as possible, and Emergency SOS helps.
Of course, when something is so easy to use in an emergency, it’s just as easy to use in every other context.
How to use Emergency SOS on iPhone and Android
Whether you have a Pixel 6 or an iPhone 13, Emergency SOS works the same on both platforms: when the feature is enabled, you click the power button five times in rapid succession. This action triggers a short countdown, accompanied by an (honestly frightening) alarm; at the end of that countdown, your phone automatically calls 911. Depending on your device, Emergency SOS can do other things, like automatically notify your emergency contacts that you’re in trouble, as well as start recording a video.
There are many problems with this setup. First, the power button is used for other shortcuts, not just Emergency SOS. On iPhone, for example, you click the Side button twice for Apple Pay confirmation; if something goes wrong, and you try to confirm a bit too eagerly, you’ll trigger Emergency SOS. Similarly, mistaking the power button for the volume button means that if you try to turn the sound up or down five notches at once, you’ll be dialing 911 in no time.
I’ve had the feature go off when I had my iPhone sitting in my car’s cup holder. The bumps along Manhattan’s Park Avenue caused the Side button to be pressed at least five times in succession, and my heart nearly stopped when I heard the SOS alarm.
Emergency SOS does need to be set up before it’s active, though. If you never set up Emergency SOS in the first place, this issue won’t apply to you, but for those of us that did engage the feature, even if we have no memory of doing so, you can stop future accidental calls, if you want.
Fortunately, you don’t actually need to completely disable Emergency SOS in order to prevent yourself from accidentally calling 911. Instead, you can simply kill the feature that automatically places a call to emergency services.
How to stop your phone from automatically calling 911
On both Android and iOS, head to Emergency SOS in the Settings app. To simply stop Emergency SOS from auto-dialing 911, disable “Auto Call” on iOS and “Call emergency services” on Android. With this feature off, Emergency SOS will ask if you want to completely disable the shortcut, turn off “Call with Side Button” on iOS, and “Use Emergency SOS” on Android.
Emergency SOS doesn’t solely exist as this quick shortcut, either; you can access it a bit more deliberately on both platforms. On iPhone, hold the volume up button and Side button together, until you see the Emergency SOS slider appear. On Android, hold the power button down until you see the “Emergency” option appear on screen. Both platforms force you to choose the Emergency SOS option after triggering the shortcut this way, which makes it much more difficult to do accidentally.
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