Why Abandoned 911 Calls Matter

Friday, October 28, 2016

If you follow us on Twitter, you’ll often see our messaging about abandoned 911 calls.

This year, from January 1st to September 30th we’ve recorded files for 6529 abandoned 911 calls. To put that in perspective we reached 44800 calls for service in that same time period. Abandoned 911 calls make up 14.6% of the total calls this year. That’s more than one out of every ten calls to 911.

Earlier this month, two calls which came into our 911 Communications Centre as abandoned 911 calls have led to officers being dispatched to significant incidents. These calls are illustrative examples why staying on the line if you dial 911 – especially why you do it by accident – is so important.

On Wednesday, October 5th, an officer was sent to hospital after being injured in the process of taking a domestic violence suspect into custody. When the victim called 911, all 911 call takers heard, at first, was noise in the background. It was through a great deal of experience and expertise that the call takers were able to recognize the sounds of an assault taking place and someone was in danger. This was soon confirmed. The quick-thinking victim had managed to lock herself in the bathroom and was back on the phone with 911 call takers when officers arrived. The officer, who received non-life-threatening injuries during the arrest, was treated in hospital and released. The suspect faces charges including breaching conditions and assault.

I know the potential embarrassment of pocket-dialing 911 first hand.

When I was first hired at VicPD, I was issued my trusty mobile device, which, in turn developed a bad habit. It seemed like whenever I walked longer distances with my work phone in the same pocket as my keys, it would dial 911. Which means it would call the 911 Communications Centre in the building where I work. My coworkers would answer and hear the sound of my swishing pockets. I’d hear the quiet, tinny sounds of the call taker desperately trying to get me on the phone –and likely straining to determine if I was in a life-or-death emergency so help could be sent my way. I’d eventually hear the voice calling out to me, or, on a couple of occasions, they would hang up and call me back. I’d sheepishly apologize and agree to take that important step of locking my phone.

Now there’s a fair amount of good-natured teasing that goes on in a police department. It’s part of how we stay mentally healthy in the face of challenging and tragic subject matter. My colleagues in the 911 Communications Centre would rib me from time to time. But, despite the annoyance and frustration I must have caused, I was never in trouble. While this happened a total number of five times, because, apart from two of those occurrences, I stayed on the line and apologized. Because I stayed on the line, they knew I was safe. People call 911 for help. Making sure that help gets to people who need it is what our call takers do.

Every time someone dials 911 in Victoria and Esquimalt that person will get some kind of response from VicPD. Until our call takers talk to someone and can determine that he or she is okay, we’ll treat the call as if that person cannot speak to us and are in dire need of help.

The second abandoned 911 call this week that ended up an emergency call for service happened in the early morning hours of Friday, October 7th. A call came in to the 911 Communications Centre just after 3 a.m. No one spoke to the line, but 911 Communications Centre staff were able to determine the location and the person to whom the line was registered. The call disconnected and officers headed to the scene.

Moments after they arrived, our officers were joined by paramedics from the BC Ambulance Service and Victoria Fire firefighters. The caller, an elderly man who didn’t speak English, had called 911 for help when his wife suddenly become very ill. After calling 911 and hearing the call takers on the other end he had hung up the phone and called his family. He explained their mother was in dire need of medical help, and they in turn called 911. Officers, paramedics and firefighters all worked to support the family and stabilize the woman. She was transported to hospital in life-threatening condition.

When we imagine the outcomes if neither of these abandoned 911 calls weren’t responded to it is clear why we take these calls so seriously, and how large of an impact on resources these calls can have. We average 26 abandoned 911 calls a day. That’s a little more than one an hour. Each has the potential to be a matter of life and death for the person on the other end of the line.

 

 

If you mistakenly dial 911 the best thing you can do is stay on the line. Let our 911 Communications call takers know that you dialed by mistake and that you don’t need assistance. Lock your cellphone when it is in your purse, or in your pocket with your keys. Even cellphones without a plan will dial 911. If you have a phone around, take the battery out. If the battery doesn’t come out of the phone, don’t give it to a child to play with. They’ll call us. It’s only a matter of time. But if it does happen, despite all your preventative steps, stay on the line and talk with our call takers. They’ll ask you some basic information and confirm that you don’t need help. By doing so you’ll save frustration, resources, and help keep costs – ours and yours – down.