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Pocket-dialing creating headaches at 911 call centers across the nation

Published: Friday, Oct. 26 2012 6:31 p.m. MDT

Many 911 phone calls are being made by cell phones in pockets or bags. This epidemic is tying up dispatcher lines across the nation. (Brave Heart, Flickr.com) Many 911 phone calls are being made by cell phones in pockets or bags. This epidemic is tying up dispatcher lines across the nation. (Brave Heart, Flickr.com)

Many have become victim to it. You answer your phone and hear muffled noises on the other end. Or, you see a friend's name flash on your Caller ID, only to pick up the phone and hear that person clearly talking to someone else.

In other words, you've been pocket-dialed.

Friends and family are not the only victims of pocket-dialing, however. Increasingly, 911 centers are receiving unintentional calls, too.

Last year, 100 million illegitimate calls to 911 were made across the nation, according to The Daily.

"Industry experts say that phones jostling in purses, pockets, briefcases and bags deserve much of the blame," reported Benjamin Carlson, in his article for The Daily. "Some users have not locked their keypads. Others have 911 programmed into speed dial. And others accidently triggered the phone's 'emergency call' function."

Virginia Beach, Va. dispatchers are getting their system jammed by all those kinds of phone calls. They report that 99 percent of the calls are accidents, according to Ava Hurdle, a journalist at Wavy.

In Illinois, 500 pocket dials were made in a month, according to The Daily. And in New York City, 10,700 were made in a day, according to NY Daily News.

If you realize you've made a "fat-finger call," instead of quickly hanging up, emergency personnel say you should let the dispatcher know it was an accident. Otherwise, the dispatcher will have to spend time to find out if it was an accident or an emergency.

"A 911 operator must stay on the line to make this determination," according to a Federal Communications Commission press release. "If no one answers, the operator may spend even more time trying to reach the caller, or even dispatch emergency services to help the caller. These efforts waste resources and divert scarce public safety personnel from other 911 calls reporting real emergencies."

For some, dialing 911 comes easy. For example, a child made 84 calls to 911 in one night with a non-initialized phone, tying up a call center in a county in Tennessee, according to The Daily.

"Many older wireless phones are equipped with a feature designed to dial 911 automatically in an emergency," according to the FCC. In fact, some people might not even be aware of this feature on their phones, the press release said.

Cell-phone manufactures are looking into solving the problems too.

Email: ehong@desnews.com Twitter: @erinhong

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