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Apple technology helps local dispatchers handle skiing accidents

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If Apple Watch SE or Apple Watch Series 4 or later detects a hard fall while you're wearing your watch, it taps you on the wrist, sounds an alarm, and displays an alert.

Up to dozens of times a day, Summit County dispatchers are notified when skiers and riders take a hard fall, thanks to Apple’s fall detection technology.

In 2020 Apple launched a new feature in its Apple Watch products called fall detection. The feature uses wrist trajectory and impact speed, and will send the user an alert if it appears a serious fall has occurred.

The person wearing the watch then has roughly 60 seconds to dismiss the alert, or it will automatically contact emergency services with location coordinates.

Suzie Butterfield is the dispatch center supervisor in Summit County, and said the center gets such alerts on a daily basis from skiers and riders who have taken a tumble.

“It depends on the time of year,” Butterfield said. “Since the ski seasons have opened in the last week or two we probably get three to five a day. But, during busy ski season, it could be anywhere from 20 to 25 a day.”

She said most people don’t realize they’ve contacted 911, and the majority of the time they aren’t major crashes.

However, in serious situations, the technology allows Butterfield to connect with ski patrol to assist injured parties.

Apple dropped a new car crash detection feature with its iPhone 14 in September. It uses the phone’s accelerometer, GPS, and microphone — and if a severe crash occurs, the phone will automatically contact 911 unless the user dismisses the alert.

Additionally, the new iPhone includes an emergency SOS system, which lets people contact help when outside of cellular or Wi-Fi coverage.

Similar to the fall detection program, Butterfield said she expects the new features will be beneficial to the dispatch center.

“We do live in such an area — Mirror Lake Highway, Uintas, searches up there — their ability with the satellite phone is going to be huge for them to be able to try to communicate with us.”

She said only one accident on the mountain has mistakenly come in as a car crash.

For those who don’t have iPhones, Butterfield recommended downloading the Life 360 app, which also has crash detection.

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.