With every new software update, smartphone manufacturers are looking for ways to make our lives easier, more efficient and safer. So when Google released a new Android feature to automate calls to the emergency services, it was expected to be a massive success. But reports from UK police suggests that the Emergency SOS function is actually a serious problem.

What is the Emergency SOS feature?

In an emergency, the faster you can contact emergency services, the better. To make the call, you normally have to unlock your handset, open the phone app and then dial a three digit number (911 in the US, 999 in the UK or 112 in Europe) to speak to an operator.

Most of us can complete this process very quickly, but every second counts in an emergency. And what happens if you are trapped or injured and cannot do all these steps?

So Android’s developers decided they could make the process much quicker and easier with the Emergency SOS feature. When enabled, users can call the emergency services just by pressing the power button multiple times. There’s no need to unlock the phone or dial a number – just press a single button.

So what’s the problem?

It is very easy to trigger the Emergency SOS function – and this is a problem. British police report that there have been hundreds of nuisance calls to the emergency services helpline, where Android phone owners have accidentally pressed the power button repeatedly.

When a user ‘butt dials’ the emergency services helpdesk, an operator must follow-up to confirm the call was accident. According to officials, these checks can take up to 20 minutes, drawing important resources away from dealing with genuine emergencies.

What can be done?

Google is clear that smartphone handset manufacturers are responsible for how the Emergency SOS function is implemented on devices. However, they have agreed to provide manufacturing partners with additional guidance and advice which can then be passed on to customers. By simply raising awareness of how the feature can be triggered accidentally, they hope that customers will take more care with their phones.

Google also advises anyone who has made multiple 999 calls to deactivate the function for now. You can do this by opening your phone’s settings and searching for ‘Emergency SOS’, then toggling the switch to ‘Off’.

In the meantime, we look forward to the additional guidance provided by Google and how Android smartphone operators can prevent accidental calls to the emergency services.