Mistaken calls, hang-ups causing issues for 911 operators

Almost 2,000 ‘nuisance calls’ came through 911 in 2018

KerryPower 911
Kerry Power is executive director at NL 911. She says mistaken calls to 911 are time-consuming for operators, preventing them from answering real emergencies. Alex Kennedy/Kicker

Alex Kennedy

Many children have phones to play with. Recently, one child was in the news for playing with an old phone a bit too much.

Last week, a Bay Roberts boy accidentally called 911 more than 200 times using an inactive cellphone, which still has the ability to make emergency calls even without cell service.

Kerry Power, executive director of NL 911, says inactive phones can have a big impact on the 911 system.

“We don’t get a phone number to dial. We try to do a trace. We’ve got to go through all of the [telecommunications] providers to find out who might have owned that phone. It does significant time to be able to work those kind of calls.”

Since these phones do not have service, there is no phone number associated with the phone. When an inactive cell phone calls 911, an I.D. number will fill the caller I.D. line rather than a phone number. This makes things difficult for 911 operators, as caller identifications are much harder to track than phone numbers.

“If we don’t get a phone number populated, then that’s even more time (taken up) because now we need to trace,” said Power. “Sometimes we get the phone number back; sometimes we don’t.”

Tying up multiple resources

When 911 is called, several agencies may need to respond. Mistaken calls can strain the system and impact ability to serve the public. Alex Kennedy/Kicker

According to recent statistics from NL 911, almost 98,000 calls were made to 911 between April 2017 and March 2018. Of the 98,000, 36,000 of these calls were “non-transferred,” meaning they were not sent by a 911 operator to an agency such as police.

Non-transferred calls can fit into a variety of different categories, such as people who call to test to see if the service works, who call 911 when a different number should be called or, in the case of the Bay Roberts boy, who call 911 repeatedly when there is no issue.

All of these kinds of calls referred to as nuisance calls by 911 operators. Almost 2,000 nuisance calls were recorded last year.

Cst. James Caddigan, media relations officer with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, says nuisance can have an effect on the force and its ability to serve the public.

“The 911 call will have you walking into a situation where we are trying to gain information,” said Caddigan. “But with these mistaken calls, with no information, you’re walking into something that is kind of the unknown.”

Caddigan adds that when accidents such as a motor vehicle collisions occur, it usually means calling in multiple resources such as police, fire firefighters and ambulances. Mistaken calls can often strain resources and hurt the system.

“These [kind of] calls are tying up multiple resources, and, you know, taking away from what possibly could be an emergency.”

Power stresses that when 911 is called, it is important to stay on the line and not hang up the phone. Callers should simply inform operators the call is accidental, so it can be logged and dealt with properly.

For more information, visit NL911 online at nl911.ca

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