While technology has made it easier to call 911 for help in an emergency, it’s also made it easier to dial the number by accident.
Oregon’s 43 Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) have seen a 40% increase in accidental dialing of 911 over the past year.
“As harmless as 911 hangup calls may seem, they impact resources,” explained Oregon Department of Emergency Management State 911 Program Manager Frank Kuchta. “Each one of these calls ties up a call taker, who must call the number back to ensure there’s no emergency. If those callbacks are unanswered, an officer must locate the caller and check on their welfare. This ties up emergency responders who are then unavailable for actual emergency calls.”
A growing list of safety features added to smartphones, smartwatches and tablets give users more ways to reach out in an emergency. Android and iPhones offer crash detection and emergency SOS features that can potentially trigger false 911 calls. When these features are activated, an alarm may sound, and a countdown timer will appear on the phone to allow the user to cancel. If the countdown isn’t canceled, the phone will call 911.
In other cases, dropping a device, putting it in a pocket or purse, or holding certain buttons too long can trigger an emergency mode that, if not responded to, can automatically call 911. Even voice assistants can result in a false call if triggered accidentally.
The Oregon Department of Emergency Management and the state PSAPs are sharing useful tips on what people should do when they dial 911 by accident:
- If you do misdial, don’t hang up. Stay on the line, let the telecommunicator know it was an accident, and answer the questions they may have.
- If you do hang up, the telecommunicator will call you back. Answer the call and explain what happened.
- Deactivated cell phones will still call 911 if the phone turns on. Don’t let kids play with deactivated cell phones unless the battery is removed or dead.
- Teach kids about 911. It’s not a game when a child is calling 911 repeatedly and hanging up or making false statements to the telecommunicator.
- Turn off the automatic dialing setting so your phone doesn’t accidentally dial 911.
- Place your phone on sleep mode when you put it in your pocket.
Emergency settings can be changed or turned off, depending on the phone. For information about emergency features on Android phones, visit https://support.google.com/android/answer/9319337. For information about emergency features on iPhones, visit https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208076.
“Just remember, if you do accidentally call 911, stay on the line and let them know there’s no emergency before you disconnect,” said Kuchta. “Please do your part to help reduce the number of accidental calls and hangups so we can keep units available for those who truly need assistance.”
Oregon’s 911 Program provides immediate access from all telephones to critical public and private safety services within Oregon. The state has 43 Public Safety Answering Points covering 36 counties. Learn more at Oregon.gov/oem/911.