There was in excess of 100 hang ups, prank calls or pocket dials from the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako’s (RDBN) 911 service area during the emergency number’s first seven weeks of operation last year.
The 911 emergency service officially went live in the RDBN on Oct. 25, 2011.
According to Stoney Stoltenberg, RDBN director of electoral area A and 911 committee chair, calls such as these waste valuable time as call centre employees are required to determine if there is an actual emergency.
As reported in the Lakes District News edition of Sept. 28, 2011, Sharla Duchscherer, a dispatcher from the Prince George call centre where all local 911 calls are answered, said 911 hang ups create a lot of wasted time trying to confirm if there is an actual emergency.
She said that if there is a mis-dial, callers should stay on the line so call centre employees can confirm the call was not made due to an emergency.
Duchscherer said cell phones that disconnect from a 911 call take a lot of resources to find out what happened. Land lines are less complicated as the address and name of the registered owner of the telephone are displayed on call screens at the dispatch centre.
“When 911 is dialed from a cell phone, the call centre gets a GPS hit on the location of the caller within a 10 to 30 kilometre radius. A disconnected cell phone can take three people half an hour to find out what happened,” she said.
Stoltenberg said the spate of nuisance calls complicated matters for call centre staff and emergency services. “It tied up services that could really be needed elsewhere,” he said.
“We tried to forewarn people that they didn’t have to test the 911 number to see if it was working … it is working …. I think some people may have said, ‘let’s see what happens if we call 911.’ I am hopeful that the number of nuisance calls will go down now.”
He said that while he does not have the latest call centre figures he remains optimistic. “I will be receiving this information soon.”
From the ‘go live’ date in October, until the end of November 2011 there was 370 calls placed to 911 from the RDBN service area, with just over 100 of being hang ups.
“There is 38,000 residents in the RDBN … some people must not have been able to resist the temptation to call. Some of the calls could also have been pocket dials. We recommend that the 911 number is not programmed into cell phones or into auto dial on home phones as it is so easy to hit the wrong button.”
Stoltenberg said most of the legitimate 911 calls received in the RDBN during the first seven weeks were requiring the services of the RCMP.
Despite the bumpy start, Stoltenberg said first responders and legitimate callers have only had positive things to say about the new emergency number.
“I have spoken to people that have legitimately used 911 and they were very happy with it,” he said, adding that more than 25 emergency numbers previously in use throughout the RDBN have been replaced by the three digit number.
“Despite the nuisance calls, it has all been worthwhile,” he added.