Updated: 12:28 p.m. A high-tech cellphone feature resulted in a frightening 9-1-1 call from Pacific Bay Christian School in Pacifica on Wednesday as Pacifica Police initially worried they were responding to a potential school shooting. The call was a false alarm and no one was injured as a result of the incident.
Pacifica Police Capt. Bill Glasgo said dispatch fielded a 9-1-1 call shortly after 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday from the private school on Linda Mar Boulevard. While no one appeared to be on the phone, dispatchers could hear voices in the background including one that said “shoot.” Police ordered the school to initiate a shelter-in-place, which was received at 2:43 p.m.
The call was the result of a relatively new cellphone feature that calls emergency services when the phone is shaken under certain conditions. In the iPhone 14, the feature is called “Crash Detection” and is intended to alert authorities in the event of a car crash or other serious event. It also opens the phone app so that an injured party can talk to 9-1-1 operators without having to place the call.
On Wednesday, the feature was activated by someone playing basketball or near the basketball courts at the school. Police arrived with long guns in hand, according to bystanders. Glasgo says officers quickly deduced what had occurred.
“That call precipitated a certain response,” he said. “It didn’t sound good when we first got the call.”
Head of School Michael Chen said the incident occurred as middle schoolers were being released for the day and high school students were walking around campus.
“The police heard ‘shoot’ ‘don’t shoot’ but they couldn’t make out what was going on,” Chen said. He said the particular time of day — when parents were arriving to pick up students — made it difficult to understand voices on the call. “It was just chaos,” he said of the background noise.
Chen was in the middle school pickup line when he got a text from another administrator alerting him that police had arrived with guns drawn. He said all students were sheltering in place within three minutes of the order. The order was lifted 16 minutes after it was given.
Chen explained the incident in two emails to the school community. “After the police lifted the shelter-in-place order, teachers and administrators prioritized their time and effort to calm students, engage with parents on campus, and send everyone home,” he wrote.
Chen said they were able to trace the phone number that made the call to someone in the school community and that police talked to that person. They also reviewed security camera footage from the day. No one was found at fault for the call.
“Any time something like his happens, it makes you nervous,” he said. “This is a safe place. This was an honest mistake.”
The iPhone feature has been blamed for false alarms across the country. In Cincinnati, authorities have repeatedly responded to false alarms at an amusement park that were caused by Crash Detection, according to a report in The Verge. Emergency responders in the Rocky Mountains have reported hundreds of false alarms due to cellphone alerts in ski areas.
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