Accidentally dialing 911 can be frightening and embarrassing. But hanging up the phone instead of correcting your mistake with the emergency communications center continues to have costly impacts on the county and each town.
Whether a child is fooling around on the phone, or an adult keeps his or her finger on the “1” button a moment too long, accidental dialings in the “919” area code range occur frequently. Often, embarrassment causes the individual to hang up, although the call has immediately been transferred to the call center.
The call center is required to call back to ensure that there is not a real emergency. If they cannot get in touch with the caller, the center’s personnel are required to dispatch an officer to check on the location where the call was dialed.
These situations do not generally apply to wireless cell phones, which make this mistake much more difficult. Landlines and VIOP phones at work and home cause the most trouble.
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In 2010, prior to the advent of 10-digit dialing, the county’s emergency center dispatched officers to investigate 10,233 hang-up calls for the whole year – about 853 per month.
After the 10-digit dialing system, the center received up to 6,000 calls monthly, and as of Sept. 2014, the county received 2,999 hang-up calls in need of a dispatch, a huge increase since the dialing change and an average of 100 dispatches per day.
Wendell Town Manager Teresa Piner has urged the town to spread awareness about the impact of the hang-ups.
Each call costs the county’s emergency call center $13-15, so accidental dials cost them $1,500 daily, in addition to the impact of holding up phone lines.
Piner said that the town has a sergeant and two officers on duty at all times in the worst case scenario. Dispatching an officer for an accidental hang-up impacts the number of staff even further, when they could be out patrolling, she said.
Barry Furey, director of the Raleigh-Wake County Emergency Communications Center, said that the impact is high on each town as well. With a 30-minute process or so around 100 times daily, mileage, precious time and other resources are heavily impacting the towns.
“That money is not being spent in the best way possible,” he said.
Although for many residents, the abrupt dialing change was frustrating, Furey said that acceptance of the change is important.
“We can’t overstate taking your time to make the call,” he said. “Once that (one button) is hit a second time, whether intentional or accidental, the phone system doesn’t know that. You’re connected just like that.”
Piner promotes education as one of the biggest solutions, saying that she would love to see education in the schools on the topic.
“Make contact with the (call) system to tell people ‘I made a mistake, that this is not an emergency and why,’” she said. “If we just said ‘I made a mistake,’ it could save a lot...time, money and it could potentially save lives.”
“We call back to verify that there isn’t a real emergency,” he said. “If they don’t pick up we don’t know if it’s a real emergency or if it’s a kid playing with the phone.”
He encouraged businesses with fax machine to check that all pre-programmed 919 numbers are accurately entered, saying that the call center has had multiple issues with fax machines.
Although he didn’t have information on gross offenders, Furey said that the numbers of misdials shoot up on Mondays.