By Terra Culley, Assistant Director
Have you ever accidentally called 911 and then hung up quickly? Maybe the phone was in your pocket or your purse. Has your little one been playing on the phone and you realized they had accidentally dialed those numbers, so you quickly just hung up?
The phone rings, and as with every call, a dispatcher never knows what is on the other end of the line. They rely very heavily on their sense of hearing. By hearing the scene, they are able to relay information to the responding agencies. Sometimes there is no sound or such a short sound bite that one is not able to determine the reason for the call, these are open line and hang up calls. In 2020 there were total of 45,876 calls out of those there were 1,071 either a hang up or open line. In some circumstances these calls may be worse than a regular call. For example, for a regular medical call, dispatch is able to ask the caller for the address, advise the caller of what to do, and then send the correct agencies. However, with an open line or hang up call what is to be done?
An open line or hang up call may sometimes take up more of dispatch time than a major motor vehicle accident call. With one of these calls there must be some type of closure or ending to the call. Let us take an open line call for example:
Phone rings in to dispatch.
Dispatcher: “911, where is your emergency?”
Caller: In an extremely low whisper or far away sounding voice states, “Help.”
Then the phone hangs up.
In large majority of the calls, a dispatcher may just hear verbal disturbances, fighting or unknown conversations.
Now it is up to the dispatcher to determine if this is an emergency call for help. Was it an accidental pocket dial, and the ‘Help’ came from the TV in the background? Was it a kid, adult or anyone in between just playing with the phone? Was it a child stuck at home due to quarantine and mom and dad are fighting, or worse? Maybe it was an elderly grandparent trying to call for help and dropped the phone.
No training will allow dispatch to just let this go, these types of calls must be fully investigated and hopefully an answer is found. There are a few options to follow through on this. Thankfully, technology allows for the phone number to populate on our call taking system. Sometimes that is all we have to go on. If it happens to be a landline phone number this is a blessing. With almost all landline phone numbers we can locate an address straight.
If it is a cell phone number, the options are more in depth. Hopefully, the cell phone number will locate on our mapping system, however being in such a rural area not all calls will. Dispatch will start off by searching the C.A.D. system for any history of this phone number. If nothing is found they will then move on to having the phone number traced, this may entail calling few different cell phone companies. Once the correct cell phone company is reached then dispatch must give a brief on what happened and they we need to get information regarding the phone number. Once this is obtained the correct law enforcement will be sent to do a well-being check.
If it was just a hang up call, no conversations or sounds were heard, dispatch will start off by just calling the phone number back. At this point we will ask if help is needed or if it was just an accidental call. If all is ok, the call will be closed. Again, training will be used when dispatch calls back. If on the call back the person answering states, that all is ok, but the dispatcher can hear background noise or disturbance, it may still be deemed necessary to have a well-being check done.
What should you do if you realize your phone has accidentally dialed 911? The answer is, DO NOT HANG UP. Stay on the line, explain what happened, and allow the dispatcher to clear the call. If you do happen to hang up, just call right back and let the dispatcher know. A dispatcher may ask a few questions such as your name and verify your location. If there is a child on the phone dispatch will ask to talk to an adult, if no adult comes to the phone then the procedures mentioned earlier will continue until we are able to make sure all is ok. No, you will not get in trouble just because your phone accidentally dialed, or your child called 911. Our main concern is your safety.
Some information to keep in mind, any older cell phone or a cell phone only used for games, videos, or just on Wi-Fi can still dial 911. All the little ones that get mom or dad’s old phone to watch their videos on; they have the ability to dial 911. With the older phones, we would advise people to take the battery out if they were just allowing the little ones to play with it like a play phone. However most newer phones you cannot take the batteries out. We do not want any child to be afraid to call 911 if needed. We do encourage education on phone etiquette for the little ones that are enjoying those great videos and games.