Accidental 911 Calls
A large number of 911 calls are accidental calls, where the caller had no intention of dialing 911 and may not even realize that he has done so. These calls fall under one of three categories: human error, equipment malfunction and the strange.
Human error accounts for a large percentage of accidental calls. Common sources for these types of calls include:
- Children playing with a phone and not understanding that they are dialing 911
- Children dialing a familiar number without any malicious intent
- Prank calls meant to annoy and harass operators
- Calls made for non-emergency reasons (when does the Filene's Basement Bridal Sale start?)
- Calls made by persons with psychiatric problems or while they are under the influence of alcohol or narcotics
Other common problems include calls made from inside a business where the caller must dial "9" to get an outside line; "fat-fingered" dialers who accidentally press an extra number; speed-dialers who miss a number; international callers who misdial country codes or forget to dial the international prefix, and auto-dial systems on wireless and memory phones where 911 has been programmed in as a short-cut key .
Equipment malfunctions occasionally leads to misdialed 911 calls. Sometimes during a rain storm the rain enters a phone line through a hole in insulation (rodents and animals chew holes through it) and creates static in the line. This static can cause an event similar to a short circuit that results in a dial to 911. Wireless home phones are also popular 911 callers. During the late 1990's several phones dialed 911 when their batteries ran low from being off the receiver.
The strange calls happen for a variety of reasons and out of a variety of circumstances. Every once in a while a report of a pet dialing 911 surfaces - be it a bird pecking at seeds that fell on the phone or a dog or cat walking over the phone. There is even a report of a rotting tomato dripping onto a phone which caused the phone to dial 911. And of course, criminals have called 911 by mistake and then hung up the phone, which prompted a police response to the location.
You can read more about misdials and other accidental 911 calls here.
To help prevent accidental calls, do not program your phones with a short-cut key or auto-dialer to 911. If you are using a cell phone, make sure the emergency call feature is turned off and use either a flip phone or lock your keypad before putting the phone where keys may be pressed accidentally (like a pocket or purse). Teach children that they should only call 911 in an emergency (see our children's page for more info).
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