Pocket-dialing, unlocked phones or speed dialing — whatever the case, Courtenay 9-1-1 operators are asking for the public’s help in reducing the amount of abandoned emergency calls they receive from cellular devices.
Out of the 66,244 9-1-1 calls the Operations Communications Center (OCC) in Courtenay received last year, 5,744 were abandoned, with more than half generated from mobile phones.
Stephanie Bremer, telecommunications operator at the center says on average during the first four months of this year, operators were averaging 17 abandoned 9-1-1 calls from cell phones per day.
“We have spent an average of 95 to 130 hours just tracking down abandoned 9-1-1 calls from cell phones,” she said. “A lot of the abandoned 9-1-1 calls that we get are from people who have left their cell phones in their pockets and have accidently pocket-dialed into us. Also, sometimes people do not put the lock on their cell phones, and a lot of people seem to have 9-1-1 programmed into their cell phones which really isn’t necessary. It’s a three-digit number, it’s easy to dial, and unfortunately with speed dial, they do accidently come through to us.”
Bremer notes if someone does call the number accidently, the first instinct generally is to hang up the phone.
“Unfortunately when that happens, the operator on the receiving end has to get the information of that call, and we attempt to call that cell phone back up to three times. If we are not successful in getting a live person on that cell phone, we then have to contact the cell phone provider, find out who the owner of that cell phone is, and attempt to get a GPS location for that cell phone. If we are successful in getting a GPS location, we will send police officers to the area to attempt to locate the owner of that cell phone.”
Despite the resources involved in locating the owner of the cell phone, Bremer added the task becomes even more difficult when someone is accidentally calling on a phone when travelling.
“If you don’t answer your phone when we call you (back), it takes a police officer off the road to track down something that really may not be an emergency. If a police officer is spending his time trying to track down an abandoned 9-1-1 call from a cell phone, you are taking him away from investigating something that maybe more of serious crime,” she said.
Bremer notes if a call is accidently placed to the center, the best steps to follow would be to stay on the line, or answer the cell phone when the operator attempts to call back.
“Ideally, we would like you to stay on the line and tell the operator ‘I’m sorry, it was a mistake, I didn’t mean to call. I was trying to call someone else.’,” she explained.
“If you do hang up and we call you back, please stay on the line or pick up the phone when you see that we’re calling you and let us know. If you realize that you have called 9-1-1 and that you haven’t spoken to us, just call us back on 9-1-1 and say ‘I believe my cell phone called you, and I’m really sorry but I don’t have an emergency.’ “
Bremer adds there is no fine involved with accidently calling 9-1-1, and that operators are very appreciative if a person does stay on the line or answer the returning call.
“No. 1 concern for us is public safety, so we just want to make sure that you’re safe. If we can ensure your safety over the phone, that’s best case scenario. If we do have to send a police officer to your home to ensure your safety, we will do that, but the preference is to keep that time free for the members to investigate more serious offences.”
Bremer suggests removing mobile phones from pockets while driving to avoid pocket dialing, locking the cell phone while not in use, removing 9-1-1 from programmed speed dials and calling an operator back if a 9-1-1 call is placed accidently.