911 Misuse?

By: Sarah Platt Email
By: Sarah Platt Email

As cell phone use goes up, it's created more challenges for 911 dispatchers. When people are on out and about, callers are dialing 911 for many non-emergency calls.

Dispatchers we spoke with say they know people are usually just trying to help a situation, but many times they should be calling non-emergency lines. It's also proved to be a difficult situation for some local volunteer fire departments, responding to potential problems.

For more than 20 years, Larry Hall has been working his day job as a farmer and a truck driver, but he also devotes much of his time to Bourbon's Volunteer Fire department.

“I think people don't realize how much is involved as soon as they make that 911 call,” says Hall.

The volunteer firefighter says he enjoys his time on the job, but says he's concerned about the growing number of false alarm 911 calls they're getting. Calls that Hall and his fellow volunteers must respond to, whether they're at work or it's in the middle of the night.

“You probably get 6 to 15 people involved on an accident or house fire and that is just putting many more peoples lives in danger to go help somebody else, they're leaving work, some get paid, some of them don't,” adds Hall.

And aside from a rural setting like Bourbon, dispatchers at the city of Mishawaka say 911 misuse in general is an issue, whether it comes from a cell phone or a landline. “That caller asked 911 for the non-emergency number,” says one dispatcher.

“As you can see, we have three dispatchers on duty and if we get bogged down with a major accident or a robbery of some type, they're very busy,” says Mishawaka Assistant Chief Mike Samp.

One of the things dispatchers recommended to us was that people put their local police, fire, and non-emergency numbers in their cell phones, so that way they can call that number, instead of wasting time on 911. “Say if somebody is parked in a handicapped parking spot, that's an important issue, but it may not necessarily be an emergency type of an issue, it’s some type of non-emergency issue,” says Samp.

Also, dispatchers encourage people to make sure their cell phones are updated to Phase II.
Phase II or newer phones have GPS technology on them, so emergency crews can get to people that need help if the caller can't give a specific location. You can check in with your wireless provider to see if your phone is phase II.

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