“Pocket dialing” and incorrect long distance attempts account for 17 to 20 per cent of all 911 calls made in the city, according to the Abbotsford Police Department (APD).
Const. Ian MacDonald said these misdialed calls, which also include children playing with phones and people asking non-emergency questions such as the time, amount to about 1,000 each month in Abbotsford.
“No matter what the cause, these draw on APD communications centre resources as we have only so many staff and so many phone lines and impact on the time of officers who are often sent to confirm there isn’t an emergency,” he said.
MacDonald said a 911 call made from a land line is easy to call back and confirm whether an emergency exists. However, cellphone calls are more difficult to trace, as the phone number doesn’t always show up on call display or indicate the caller’s exact location.
In Abbotsford, 911 services are handled by E-Comm – the regional emergency communications centre – which reported on Tuesday that more than 100,000 accidental calls were made to 911 last year in Metro Vancouver and surrounding areas.
E-Comm estimated that more than 70,000 of those calls (200 per day) were inadvertent calls from cellphones, and 40,000 more were abandoned (hang-up) calls.
The agency also reported that, in 2011, a record number of 911 calls – 58 per cent – came from cellphones. This resulted in an increase in “pocket dials” – when a phone stored in a pocket, purse or backpack accidentally hits the three digits or when 911 is programmed into the device.
“I’ve had a lot of calls from Rogers Arena when the Canucks were playing,” said E-Comm 911 call-taker Corey Kelso. “I’ve heard pucks drop, I’ve heard the announcements, and I’ve actually heard Richard Loney singing the national anthem.”
Doug Watson, E-Comm’s vice-president of 911 operations, advises the public to use keylocks on their cellphones, store them in protective cases and not pre-program the digits into any phone.
If 911 is called by mistake, the centre asks that callers 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.