News Online: Authorities see increase in 911 pocket dialing

Published online at on January 19, 2011.

Linda Hoang, Global News: Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Authorities see increase in 911 pocket dialing

The growth of smartphones has led to an unintended effect — an increase in false alarm calls to 911.

Emergency response workers are having to deal with hundreds of emergency calls each day with many of them the result of accidental pocket dialing.

In Edmonton, 911 operators screen incoming calls and forward only emergency calls to emergency agencies.

Numbers show that the centre currently averages 1,000 calls a day.

Out of those, about 700 are from cell phones and of that number, only about 230 are legitimate emergencies.

“It’s about two thirds of the calls we get from cell phones are non emergency calls,” said Kim Pudde, the city’s 911 operator supervisor. “We get everything from wrong numbers to believe it or not, prank calls, a lot of calls that are made in error, and the famous 911 pocket dial from cell phones.”

It’s a growing occurrence that could cause problems for those calling with real emergencies.

“When we’re dealing with high volume of calls… we don’t know which of those in there are real emergency calls, we have to go through them in the order they come in so if we have two thirds of the people calling into 911 who don’t have emergencies, people who do may be waiting longer than they need to,” Pudde said.

And while many smartphones do come with keypad locking, that option can easily be overridden with pocket dialing.

“Depending on who manufactured the phone, it may have an emergency call override so you can still dial 911 even though the keypad is locked,” explained Jim Johannsson, a spokesperson with Telus.

Johannsson recommends phone users get cases to prevent pocket dialing.

Still despite the high volume of false alarms, Pudde says all calls are generally taken very quickly, with operators sorting out which calls are real and which fake, in under a minute in most cases.

She adds that the centre also has a non-emergency number cell phone users can call instead of 911.

Users under Telus can dial #377 and those under Rogers can dial *377.

Pudde says the centre hopes to work with all cell phone companies to establish the non-emergency line in the future.

Click here to read the article on the Global Edmonton website.

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