By Jennifer Bowman
Pocket dialing 9-1-1 is causing problems for local agencies and police.
Up to 30 per cent of all 9-1-1 calls on one day in Belleville in November were pocket dials. Those calls use up resources and slow down response time, said Colette Tanner, 9-1-1 coordinator for Hastings County.
Tanner said they’re going to bring the emergency services together to target the problem. She hopes that will include a poster campaign with catchy images that has been successful in British Columbia. She wants to target Loyalist College as well as malls.
The problem is young people, said Tanner.
Young people think it’s not cool to holster their phone, she said. Everybody has their phone on its own, but that’s what the problem is. The phones are able to make that pocket dial.
If you don’t want a holster, lock your phone, she said. Blackberries are especially a problem since 9-1-1 is automatically programmed as the emergency number, making it easier to call.
Tanner said another problem is parents who give their old phones to their children as toys. The child may not be able to call any other numbers, but they will always be able to call 9-1-1. The 9-1-1 service can’t be deleted from any phone.
If 9-1-1 operators aren’t 100 per cent sure it’s a pocket dial, they have to send police to the scene, said Tanner.
Constable Terry Briard from Central Hastings OPP said they attend up to 30 9-1-1 calls a day. On average about two of those are false calls.
Briard said often it’s children playing with the phone, or someone trying to dial 9-4-1-1 and getting the wrong number. They’re quite innocent, he said.
Police have to respond to every 9-1-1 call, he said, even if the caller reassures them they don’t need assistance. Police don’t know what the situation is, and there may be someone trying to stop them from calling.
He said they have enough officers to respond to all calls, but it’s a matter of what takes priority. The officers could be doing something else, he said.
“In a rural setting, we have a logistical problem of getting there, and it’s not like in the city where sometimes an officer can be there in 30 seconds. Sometimes we have to drive further and it affects our response,” said Briard. “It’s not something we get concerned about because it’s become very common and we just deal with it and go on to the next thing.”
Tanner said they are not missing any 9-1-1 calls because of false calls, but it is slowing down the process as operators take up to four minutes to figure out whether the call is an emergency or not.
They need to stay on the line and listen to background noise to see if there’s anything that sounds like it might be an emergency.
“I wouldn’t say it’s stopping other calls, it’s just tying up our staff,” she said.
It’s just slowing it down for that next call, she Tanner.
They are taking ownership of the problem, she said.
“I feel we need to take ownership for it, because if we’re not the ones telling them, ‘Hey you’re calling us accidentally,’ who takes ownership for it?” she said.
People shouldn’t just be concerned about 9-1-1 calls though, said Tanner.
“It’s not just us you’re dialing, you’re dialing all kinds of other people, using up your minutes needlessly as well.”
Tanner is also part of a provincial committee who will be testing a T-9-1-1, which will enable deaf people to text 9-1-1. The trial period starts in January, and will only be available to deaf people and on certain phones.
Courtesy of the Rural Hastings Advocate.