Pocket dialing 911 strains emergency operator workload

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EVERETT — Have you ever accidentally called 911 on your cell phone?

Maybe your kids dialed the number or you accidentally pocket dialed. Either way, dispatchers still have to find out if there’s a problem – possibly taking precious time away from legitimate emergencies.

Emergency operators at SNOPAC in Everett took a whopping 37,000 abandoned or unintentional 911 calls already since September. That number is likely to grow in 2015.

Hundreds of calls ring into the center each day, but some callers hang up before dispatchers can figure out if there’s an actual emergency.

“It happens all the time,” said Karl Christian.

When that happens it means even more work for operators.

“Could be 30 seconds, could be 2 minutes trying to call you back trying to find out what the problem is,” said Christian.

Nearly 73% of all of the calls coming into SNOPAC are from cell phones, which is above the national average.

Depending on the caller’s phone and the carrier, finding the exact location could be extremely difficult.

“The more and more people that are using wireless opposed to hard line, it’s just a problem that’s going to keep growing,” Christian said.

“You never know which one of these 911 calls is going to be the one that has a victim that can’t talk on the phone,” said Lt. Robert Goetz with the Everett Police Department.

Police will sometimes search for the caller themselves if dispatchers believe an emergency is underway.

Everett Police said they would do their best to make sure nobody’s in danger.

“Even if we get information that it’s just kids playing on the phone because you never know what that might be. It could be a victim of a crime and just a little child is calling 911,” Goetz said.

If you accidentally call 911 on your cell phone, SNOPAC operators would rather you stay on the line and explain what happened so they don’t waste even more time trying to reconnect.

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