RALEIGH — Wake County residents are still struggling with 10-digit dialing, causing headaches for emergency responders who answer accidental 911 calls.
Many of these calls were placed as a result of people dialing 911 instead of the local area code, 919. Dialing 919 before local calls has been required since last March when the 984 area code was added to the multi-county region that previously used just 919 to accommodate population growth and the proliferation of cellphones.
Wake County officials said Friday that 911 calls increased by 18 percent in 2012, to more than 600,000 calls.
Once callers realize their mistake, many choose to hang up before speaking with an emergency dispatcher. Hang-up calls to the 911 center nearly tripled last year, to 52,160.
Hang-ups are troublesome for dispatchers, who are required to call back. If no one answers, police must be sent to the location where the call was placed.
Police and sheriffs deputies were dispatched more than 30,000 times in Wake County as a result of 911 hang-up calls last year.
Emergency officials in Durham and Orange counties also have reported increases in the number of unintentional 911 calls since the new dialing requirements were put in place.
Barry Furey, emergency communications director for Wake County, thinks efforts to drum 911 into peoples heads have led callers to subconsciously put an extra digit into the area code. Furey said it can take a year or more for people to become accustomed to the new dialing requirements.
Furey said accidental callers are often older people and businesses with land lines. He said accidental calls are more easily made from land lines, which automatically connect when 911 is dialed, than from cellphones, which require users to press another button to initiate a call.
As for 2013, it is too early to tell, Furey said, but he again asked for the publics help to reduce the number of accidental calls. Dial carefully, he added, and if you do accidentally dial 911, do not hang up. Stay on the line to tell the dispatcher your mistake.
Fureys office also encouraged people who need emergency services to place the call themselves and not to rely on a friend or family member in another location to call. Too often, friends or relatives provide incomplete or bad information that causes delays, he said.