Misdialing 9-1-1 can interfere with actual emergencies, but the UC Davis Police Department has a solution.
For outgoing calls made from campus, a nine must be dialed before the telephone number. The police department recommends changing that digit to another number in order to curb accidental emergency calls.
The dispatch center gets somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 accidental calls each year. The police department spends approximately 183 hours fielding accidental emergency calls – which adds up to a month’s salary for one officer.
Many callers hang up after misdialing, but there is no such thing as an anonymous 9-1-1 call. The dispatch center immediately determines the location of the call. Because all calls require a follow-up, an officer must be sent out on the field.
“Misdials take officers away from their regular duties,” said Tamar Rein, a dispatcher. “If we can reduce time spent on fielding false emergencies we can allocate our resources to more proactive things.”
Rein, who has worked as a dispatcher for 10 years, said the worst thing someone can do in the case of a misdial is hang up.
“If it’s a misdial, stay on the line and confirm it so we don’t have to waste time and resources trying to establish contact,” Rein said.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no fine for accidentally dialing 9-1-1.
Captain Joyce Souza, who is spearheading the effort, believes that accidental dialing is a hazard and a nuisance.
“If we get a call, we have to send officers out even if the person hangs up, because we don’t know if there’s an emergency,” said Souza. “False calls can lead to responder complacency which endangers the officers and the community and makes it harder to motivate officers to take all calls seriously.”
Mark Redican, Senior Manager of Communications Resources, said changing the digit used to place outgoing calls is fairly simple.
“From a technical standpoint, the change to the campus telephone switch is very simple – just a matter of programming the switch,” Redican said. “Some systems, like fax machines, with pre-programmed auto-dialing functions would have to be reconfigured as well.”
Getting approval for the change may be time-consuming. The options need to be presented to various campus committees for discussion.
“Once campus constituents have had a chance to voice their concerns or support, and an acceptable option is agreed upon, the change could take place over a matter of several months,” said Redican.
The plan is still in its early stages and no formal proposal has yet been made, but Souza hopes to receive approval by January.
“I don’t think it’s possible to eliminate all misdials,” said Souza, “but we can certainly drastically reduce them.”
Other campuses that changed their outgoing call digit have seen as much as a 90 percent drop in misdials, Souza said.
JANE TEIXEIRA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.