Emergency! Too Many People Are Butt Dialing 911
The influx of false calls is straining the system, Google research finds
It’s always embarrassing when you “pocket dial” a colleague or friend (and especially an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend). But calling 911 by accident is more than an inconvenience for the operators who answer.
In San Francisco, pocket dialing (which can happen when you carry a mobile phone in your pocket, purse or backpack and accidentally press or squeeze the keypad) is taxing the emergency response system. Some 30 percent of all wireless 911 calls are accidental dials, according to new research from Google.
Emergency dispatchers already have their hands full with desperate callers facing fires, heart attacks, home break-ins and other disasters. Pocket dialers don't make their jobs any easier.
A third of the emergency dispatchers surveyed by Google said that pocket dialing was the major “pain point” of their workday. Not only do dispatchers have to try to figure out if the call is legitimate, they have to reply to each, wasting up to one minute and 14 seconds of valuable time on each call.
Google undertook the research as part of its volunteer program for social good. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Services received 28 percent more calls in 2014 than it had in 2011, and although reports of property and violent crime increased during that period, it was not enough to explain why emergency calls were skyrocketing.
This is not the first time the 911 pocket dialing headache has pounded. In 2012, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police reported a large jump in pocket dials to 911, calling it “a public safety issue and a drain on law enforcement.” And in 2014 Michael O’Rielly of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a memo saying that up to 84 million calls a year to emergency dispatchers — or 50 percent of all calls to 911 — may be pocket dials.
“Dedicated and hard-working public safety officials who answer and respond to Americans in times of need are being inundated by accidental wireless calls to 911,” the FCC commissioner wrote. “This is a huge waste of resources … and increases the risk that legitimate 911 calls and first responders will be delayed.
Technology could in theory prevent 911 calls on locked mobile phones, but the problem is, children and others may need to make an emergency call without having to input a password. For this reason, all mobile phones must have the ability to make a 911 call even if the screens are locked.
PC World has these suggestions for halting pocket calls to emergency dispatchers.
- Carry your mobile phone in a holster that protects the front of the phone.
- Don't program 911 into your contacts list.
- Look for an app, such as Call Confirm (for Androids), to prevent pocket dialing.
SafeBee called Apple tech support for their suggestions. Here's what they advised:
- Put your mobile phone in sleep mode (press the sleep/wake button, which is the same as the power button) before putting it in your pocket. This won't entirely eliminate pocket dialing because you could accidentally wake up the phone in your pocket, but it should help.
- Put your phone on auto lock (go to Settings>General>Auto-Lock to do this). That way you have to swipe to open the home screen and bring up the phone key pad.
If you take these steps, experts say, your phone is less likely to dial 911 behind your back — and real emergency calls are more likely to be heard.