"Pocket" Dials No Laughing Matter For Emergency Dispatchers

RENO, NV - The calls come in to the Regional Dispatch Center 24/7.

The person on the other end may be reporting a crime, an accident, medical emergency. It could be a life and death situation. All too often it's a pocket dial, someone accidentally calling 9-1-1 on their cell phone.

"It happens every day, all day and all night," says Operations Supervisor Suzy Rogers.

In fact, of the more than 160 thousand calls to this center last year, fully 38 percent were accidental. And it's getting worse.

It seems our smart phones are outsmarting us.

It's easier to do on some cell phones than others, but they all have a feature that allows you to set up a single emergency call button. Once that's activated the simple act of putting it in your pocket could connect you with 9-1-1.

And these dispatchers have to assume that each call is a real emergency.

If, as often happens, the party hangs up, that triggers a search for the source of the call, a complicated process which may end up with a search of phone company files and officers being dispatched to an address. Meanwhile.....

"Other calls are going unanswered," says Rogers, "or there's a delay in our response in getting to those other lines because that's one less dispatcher who can answer the incoming true emergency calls.

It can even happen on a supposedly deactivated phone no longer connected to an account or service. Years ago the FCC mandated all operational cell phones with a charge be able to access 9-1-1.

Rogers says you can help by being careful and if you make a mistake....

"Please stay on the line. Just let us know it was a pocket dial. That eliminates a lot of work right there."

That will stop what appears to be a huge waste of resources and tax dollars and help insure, there's someone to answer when it's really important.

Sadly, a number of these calls come from chronic repeat offenders, apparently taking none of this seriously. They'd be advised to do so. Unlawful use of 9-1-1 is a gross misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2500 and a jail term.

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