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Some Androids don’t call 911 when you tell them to call an ambulance

Sometimes you get a list of ambulance companies, sometimes a blog post on when it's OK to call an ambulance.

Somebody’s not breathing. You panic, you grab your phone, and you call for an ambulance.

Or do you?

Unfortunately, if you’re using an Android phone, you might not be. You could instead be calling for, say, medical transportation that isn’t authorized to respond to emergencies.

As the Idaho Statesmen reported recently, Android users who use voice commands may tell their smartphones to “call an ambulance” but that phrase doesn’t trigger all Androids to dial the US emergency number of 911. The newspaper didn’t specify which Android models fail to dial 911.

Tell Siri, however, to call an ambulance, and the voice assistant will dial 911. That’s a relief. But when some Android phones are given that voice command, they instead pull up a list of ambulance companies. Alternatively, they may respond with a Google search that returns, say, a blog post on when it’s appropriate to call an ambulance, the Statesman reports.

Dispatchers for Injury Care EMS – a Boise, Idaho-based company that transports patients in its ambulances, including, for example, from hospitals to nursing homes – told the news outlet that they’ve been getting a steady trickle of calls that were meant to go to 911.

The reason for that may well be that Injury Care EMS is the first company that appears in a Google list of ambulance companies in the Boise area. Injury Care EMS owner Dr. Richard Radnovich and his dispatchers told the Statesman that they’re getting the misplaced calls several times a week.

Rich Wright, an EMT student and the community liaison for Injury Care, told the Statesman that one such recent call was from a mother whose son drank too much. She was trying to get paramedics to help him out, he said:

It was a mom who was panicked, and she was trying to do the best she could to get an ambulance to her son, and we just happened to be the company that her phone had dialed.

Dispatchers are telling such callers that they need to hang up and dial 911, but even the few seconds it takes to tell them that, and for the callers to hang up and call the right number, eats up precious time during an emergency. It takes up even more time if the caller is confused and the dispatcher needs to explain it more thoroughly.

Life-saver Siri

We’ve seen multiple instances of Siri being used to call emergency services and then being credited for saving people’s lives, all because precious time was saved when getting medical attention to people in need.

There was one such case in 2017, when a 4-year-old saved his mother’s life by telling Siri to please dial 999 – the British emergency services number – to “save Mummy’s life.”

A year before that, an Australian mother, rushing to the nursery when a baby monitor showed her 1-year-old had stopped breathing, dropped her phone while she was turning on the light. She still managed to tell Siri to call for help while she performed CPR. Both she and her husband credited the few precious seconds that Siri gave them for potentially making all the difference.

The outcome of that particular story is one of the upsides of the fact that then-recent iPhones picked up the ability to always be listening for commands. That feature came about in iOS 9, when Apple enabled activation of the built-in personal assistant at the sound of your voice, rather than waiting for you to hold down the Home button.

A question of public safety

Those are some of the ways in which Siri has been credited with saving lives. Google’s voice assistant? Not so much. At least, it hasn’t featured in headlines about saving mummies or babies, though that certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

At any rate, Radnovich reached out to the Statesman because he sees the issue as a question of public safety. He also reached out to Google, but neither he nor the newspaper got much satisfaction out of the company.

From an email sent by a Google spokeswoman to the Statesman:

The supported query for the Google Assistant is ‘Hey Google, call 911.’ This will trigger the Assistant to call 911. Asking the Assistant to ‘call an ambulance’ is not currently supported and we don’t encourage use of that voice command.

OK… so, can’t Google just, like, rewrite the code so that the “call an ambulance” voice command triggers a call to 911, as Wright suggests?

Sorry, Google, but your failure to do so does not compute.

Android users, we can’t tell you which models call 911 when you ask for an ambulance or which don’t. So in lieu of Google changing things around so that the voice command triggers a 911 call, please do try to remember that in the US, it’s safest to dial 911, or tell Google voice assistant to dial 911, not an ambulance.

Heaven knows what you’ll get if you don’t.


Being old enough to remember when cell phones were only a Star trek thing, and all telephones were wired. Back in the day – Happening upon a car accident, trying to help people and having to leave to get to a phone to call for services was frustrating. Expecting your phone to be reliable as an auto call on voice command, it’s good, but I don’t think people should expect to be dependent on it for emergency services with conversation type commands. People these days don’t know how fortunate they are to have One number to dial for help. It used to be, you had to look it up, and it was different for every town and every service. It’s a great feature (dial by voice) but maybe people should voice dial the One number for their country’s help line to be sure they get help, to help make the feature dependable.


Some people would really leave it to a voice assistant to make that call?
If you follow good practice voice assistants won’t work on the lock screen so someone is expecting owners to unlock a phone and then rather than just dialing the 3 digit emergency number they’re going “Hey siri / alexa [wait] dial me an ambulance”
“Did you mean; buy me a toy lance?”
“Dialling Aunt bea”
“Sorry I didn’t get that”
“Installing emergency services skill”



Just dial the emergency services and let them ask you what you need. You shouldn’t be “calling an ambulance”, you should be calling the emergency services to report an emergency. That way the line is open and they can calmly get the right information out of you and respond appropriately.

I was taught that from very young. In an emergency: “Dial 999.” Not, “Decide what response is needed and then instruct someone to carry it out.”


I’m not sure what is the bigger WTF here, Google not programming their voice assistant to dial 911, or it’s equivalent when you say “call an ambulance” or people trusting a voice assistant to call 911. I’ll also call out Google for the sheer techie brain arrogance of responding by telling people to use the “correct” command rather than admitting error and fixing it.
Personally I’m a middle aged sysadmin so I deeply distrust all voice assistants and leave them turned off or never installed.


It would be useless dialling 911 where I live as we don’t use that number for anything. In the UK we use 999 to call emergency services, which includes ambulances, Police and the Fire Service.


This story raises the question of what happens if someone tells their android device to “call the police” or “call the fire department”. Those could also be time-critical emergency calls.

Beyond that question, I have to wonder what is happening to the human race when we can’t even dial the simple 3-digit number that was specifically created to be fast and memorable. Granted, there will be cases where someone just cannot dial the phone, so it’s nice to have the voice-activated backup. But if you can dial 911, why not just do so?


Exactly. In many cities, after speaking to you and finding out the nature of the emergency, the immediate response of the emergency services might not be to “call an ambulance” but to dispatch a motorcycle or bicycle paramedic who can get there quickly, with an ambulance arriving later to transport the person to hospital if needed. The emergency services may also stay on the line to give you advice on what to do next while you’re in a flap waiting for the first responder to arrive.


Blame google because peoples are idiot. Nice. What retarded parent use voice assistant to call an ambulance when her son is in trouble? Calling 911 by hand is easier and faster.


If we’re being fair to the person in an emergency situation, there are a couple of factors that can easily be in play: for example panic. Another thing that can happen (like in the story where the mom was doing CPR on her baby), is that the caller’s hands can get tied up in handling the immediate danger.
If your kid needs you doing CPR or anything else, you’re probably not going to want to stop and fuss with your phone, so deligating the dialing to Siri or Google Asistant actually makes a lot of sense.


No, no, no. Just dial 911/999/whatever and engage speakerphone mode if you need to have your hands free.


That’s still precious time you’re not spending trying to do whatever it is that needs to be done. While I am not a fan of Siri or Google Assistant, I can’t really begrudge those who would turn to them in an emergency situation – they are tools advertised as capable of making phone calls AND capable of an abnormal amount of reasoning, so it’s valid for people to have the expectation that they would do just that, especially once the emergency has thrown them into a bit of a panic.


Ignoring the fact that Siri and friends are explicitly offered as not for emergency use… if you are in a panic then your emergency training should kick in and you should keep it simple. “Call 911” (or 112 or 999 or 000, whatever the number is that was drummed into you when you were a kid) is what you want, not “Call the type of vehicle I have already decided I want and need even though I am in a panic and could do with some adult assistance to make sure I am thinking straight.”


Wouldn’t want them to call 911 in Australia (000), or England (999), and probably loads of other countries. If you are American, don’t try it when you are abroad.


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