Pocket dials behind huge number of bogus 911 calls

E-Comm urges cellphone users to take precautions to prevent unintended calls

Pocket dials from cellphones are being blamed for most of the more than 100,000 bogus 911 calls that took up operators’ time last year, diverting resources from real emergencies in the Lower Mainland.

An analysis of call statistics found 10 per cent of more than one million 911 calls received by the E-Comm regional emergency communications centre were dialed by mistake in 2011.

E-Comm estimates more than 70,000 of those calls – or 200 per day – were “pocket dials” in which cellphones in a pocket or purse dialed 911 by mistake. Another 40,000 were abandoned calls where the user hung up.

Growing use of smart phones are behind the increase as they now account for 58 per cent of 911 call volume – an all-time high and up 10 per cent in four years.

E-Comm is asking the public to cut down on pocket calls by using keylocks, storing cell phones in protective cases and not pre-programming 911 into any phone.

If 911 is dialed by mistake, the centre says callers should stay on the line and speak with the call-taker.

When callers hang up, staff will call back to ensure the caller is safe, tying up more resources and in the case of hang-ups from landlines, dispatching police.

Operators who handle the numerous pocket dials must stay on the line and listen for signs that a caller dialed intentionally but is now incapacitated or otherwise in danger.

Call takers say they’ve heard it all, from action at rave parties to intimate moments phone users would never want transmitted.

“I’ve had a lot of calls from Rogers Arena when the Canucks were playing,” says Corey Kelso, E-Comm 911 call-taker. “I’ve heard pucks drop, I’ve heard the announcements, and I’ve actually heard Richard Loney singing the national anthem.”

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