Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Never Know What A 911 Call Will Turn Out To Be

The New York Times had an interesting piece on calls to 911 centers where the caller doesn't say anything. These calls are often referred to by 911 dispatchers as "open lines".
Open-line calls have long plagued emergency dispatchers, who handle about 240 million calls in more than 6,000 communications centers across the country, according to Trey Forgety, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association, a trade group. The advent of cellular technology has only expanded the potential for confusion. To those on the receiving end of the line, the silence can signify a prank, a pocket-dial or, just as easily, something haunting.
Sometimes these calls happen for innocuous reasons such as a child playing on the phone or a cell phone jammed into a back pocket. Other times these calls happen for more sinister reasons. In the case referred to in the New York Times story, Grapevine, TX Police got a 911 open line call that turns out to have came from the scene where six people were murdered by a relative on Christmas morning.

Most agencies and dispatch centers have policies about how they respond to 911 hang ups or 911 open line calls. At the agency where I work we respond to thousands of 911 open line calls every year along with about three times as many 911 hang up calls. Thankfully most of these calls turn out to be nothing. However, they do tie up a huge amount of police resources that could be better used for handling real emergencies.

How does your agency respond to 911 open lines or 911 hang up calls?

1 comment:

  1. Clackamas County, OR runs 911 calls from cell phones through an automated screening process:
    "When you call 9-1-1 from a cell phone in Clackamas, Multnomah or Washington Counties, you will be connected to a recording. The recording will play the following message:

    "You have reached Clackamas (or another county's) 9-1-1, do not hang up. For help, say "help" after the tone" You would then hear a tone and an open line sound. You should say "help" or any other word or noise to trigger your transfer to a dispatcher. The message will go on to say. "To reach a dispatcher, press 1 at any time, or say "help" at the tone." Again, you will hear a tone, and an open line sound. You may either press "1" or say "help" to get to a call taker. "


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