Unintentional calls to 911 slow response time

Unintentional calls to 911 slow response time
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EUGENE, Ore. -- More than one in 10 calls to 911 during a recent 24 hour period were unintentional calls attributed to "pocket dialing," where a cell phone in a pocket or purse accidentally places a call.

The accidental calls are part of an overall increase in calls which, coupled with decreased staffing, has resulted in a slower response time to 911 calls, according to law enforcement officials.

Now a new software program will filter 911 calls from cell phones, requiring cellular callers to press a key or say "911" after hearing a brief recorded message.

"Every time we get an unintentional 911 call from a cell phone," explained Melinda Kletzok with the Eugene Police Department, "we have to make sure that we answer and then attempt to call back in order to determine that no emergency exists. If we cannot determine that upon call back (and we could be trying multiple times) and we have an approximate location, we route the call to the law enforcement agency to dispatch on an "incomplete call" in order to ensure that there is no problem.  The time it takes to do all of that follow up is significant - and impacts our ability to deal with real or legitimate calls to 911."

During a recent sampling period, 13 percent of the calls to 911 were unintentional, Kletzok said.

To combat the problem, Central Lane 911 will begin using a software filter called XMU to help handle cell phone calls, which make up more than 60 percent of the calls to 911.

Here is how the system will work with cell calls:

  • When a cellular caller dials into 911, the call is routed to the 911 Center. The first thing the caller will hear is an extremely brief recorded voice message after which the caller must say “911” or press any key on their phone to be routed straight to a call taker.
  • If the caller does nothing, a message is repeated in Spanish
  • If there is no response, the message is repeated in English and then Spanish.
  • If there is no response or selection after nine seconds, the call ends.

Call centers from the Portland Metropolitan area (Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties) have seen up to a 25 percent reduction in unintentional calls with this change, Kletzok said.