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Did you pocket dial 911? Don’t hang up

The National Emergency Number Association is the organization that represents 911 centers across the country. They say pocket dials and hang-ups are an issue — especially at understaffed 911 centers. That’s because they divert attention from legitimate 911 calls for help.

We’re glued to our cell phones — except when they’re in our pockets. That’s causing inadvertent calls to 911 that are more common than you think.

UAB student Brooke Waller accidentally dialed 911.

“I was actually driving in my car,” Waller said. “My phone was in my back pocket and when I pulled out my phone to text somebody it connected to 911.”

Mistaken calls result in hang-ups

That causes a game show-style, buzzer beater hang-up once the caller realizes the mistake.

Morgan Carwell accidentally dialed 911 a few times. She disconnects quickly when she makes the mistake.

“Just click off before it can ring, or if it does ring, just click off,” Carwell said.

A national problem

The National Emergency Number Association is the organization that represents 911 centers across the country. They say pocket dials and hang-ups are an issue — especially at understaffed 911 centers. That’s because they divert attention from legitimate 911 calls for help.

Jefferson County 911: 13,831 misdials and hang-ups in 2016

The Jefferson County 911 center is one of the largest in Alabama. Officials say eight percent of the calls that were made to this center last year were misdialed. Mistakes that resulted in hang-ups, nearly 14,000 times.

Renee Whitcomb is the training coordinator for Jefferson County 911. She teaches operators how to handle emergency calls, misdials and hang-ups. She says 911 operators will call you back if you hang up.

“We want the person on the other end to tell us that they’re all right,” said Whitcomb.

In fact, Jefferson County 911 operators will send first responders to track you down. That’s if they can’t connect with you after you dial 911 by mistake.

“The 911 dispatcher will attempt to call you back several times,” Whitcomb said. “We’ll get the closest possible location we can if it’s a cell phone. Then, it’ll be forwarded to the sheriff’s department for their dispatch to give out. And the dispatcher will send a unit to that area to attempt to locate someone.”

Jefferson County 911: First responders dispatched more than 500 times due to misdials and hang-ups

Jefferson County’s 911 center dispatched first responders 519 times last year following hang-ups. That’s because they couldn’t connect with the caller. Almost all were unnecessary trips.

Who’s that calling me?

We noticed a big problem when we did a test inside the Jefferson County 911 center. I dialed 911 and hung up.

A 911 operator called me back. But the caller ID showed an administrative phone number. There wasn’t any designation that it was an official 911 call.

Most people wouldn’t even answer a call like that because they don’t know where the call is coming from.

“I would guess about 80% would not answer the phone or call back,” said Jefferson County 911 Director Howard Summerford

Indiana had the same problem

Indiana’s 911 system had the same problem a few years ago.

They determined that people ignored a call from 911 80% of the time, since it wasn’t properly identified in Caller ID, according to Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana 911 Board.

Now, if you live in Indiana, and call 911 by mistake, you’ll receive an official text message like this one:

Bartholomew County 911: “We received a 911 hang-up from this number. Do you have an emergency?”

Cell Phone User: “No I do not…”

Indiana 911: Millions of dollars saved

According to the director of Indiana’s 911 system, about 80% of the people respond to official 911 texts following inadvertent calls and hang-ups.

So, first responders don’t have to be dispatched following 911 calls that are a mistake. The result: millions of dollars in cost savings in Indiana.

A solution is coming soon

Some 911 districts in Jefferson County will be rolling out a similar program starting this summer. Within two years, all 911 centers across Alabama will be able to send you a text message if you dial them by mistake and hang-up.

“That’s going to help us to more accurately identify the real emergencies to send help,” said Summerford.

How to prevent pocket dialing 911

In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to prevent pocket dialing 911:

  • First option: You can lock the home screen on your phone. You can do this by hitting the button on the far right.
  • Another option: Make use of a holster like this one. Just pop your phone in and wear it on your belt. I know it doesn’t look very cool, but it gets the job done.
  • A third option: Turn off your phone while it’s sitting in your pocket.

Be sure to talk to the 911 operator if you accidently dial them so they know you’re okay.

Just stay on the line, so they don’t have to call you back.

You won’t get in trouble if you simply made a mistake.

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