Midtown Raleigh News

After switch to 10-digit dialing, misdials plague 911 center

With 911 misdials still occurring at a troublesome rate, the city’s top emergency communications official has issued a plea for the public to pay more attention when dialing.

The problem stems from the recent switch to 10-digit dialing. Local calls must now begin with the 919 area code, a change that means more 911 mistake calls because the digits are so similar.

“Unfortunately, we are almost three weeks downstream from this implementation, and are seeing few signs of improvement,” Barry Furey, director of the 911 center, wrote Friday in an email to Raleigh CAC leaders.

On peak days, police officers are dispatched to investigate hangup calls once very 7-1/2 minutes, according to Furey’s office. That’s a daily average, meaning that at peak times, the impact is even more severe.

The switch has prompted all sorts of confusion.

“We’ve had callers tell us they thought they had to now dial 9-1-1 before calling in our area, and others ask if they needed to dial 9-1-9 before they called 9-1-1,” Furey said.

The transition has been particularly difficult for seniors. Data from Furey’s office shows that a majority of calls come from senior citizens and business telephones.

“If you have an elderly friend, relative, or neighbor, I’d like to personally ask you to take the time to make sure they understand to carefully dial 9-1-9,” Furey wrote in his email to CAC leaders.

There’s no easy way to help seniors make the switch, says Karen Daniels, director of lifestyles at the Heritage of Raleigh, a retirement community off Falls of Neuse Road.

“We have to just keep telling them,” Daniels said. “I don’t really know how to solve it.”

With business telephones, the issue is more complex. It may involve the need to dial “9” to get an outside line, followed by an unnecessary “1” before dialing the area code.

The city plans to add seven new positions to the 911 center in the upcoming budget, part of an effort to maintain adequate response times as the department awaits a new, larger facility.

No positions have been added for the past three years, leaving a front-line staff of 81.

The call center is housed in a cramped, 1960s-era bunker under City Hall. Plans are taking shape for a new 911 center on the former Westinghouse site near the Beltline northeast of downtown.