Butt-Dialed 911 Calls Waste Time, Money

Emergency operators in Plano are receiving an increasing amount of accidental calls from cell phone users who don't realize they have even made a call.

Gretchen Dunlap said she has definitely heard it all during her job as a 911 operator -- "music, singing, conversations, people yelling at their kids."

"A lot of children carry cell phones, and I guess they have them in their pockets at school, so we hear a lot of classrooms," she said.

Dunlap said she once got three back-to-back misdialed calls in less than a minute. On Wednesday, she received more than 30 misdialed calls in a five-hour period, four of which came in just 20 minutes. On average, dispatch receives 1,500 abandoned calls per month.

"Plano 911. Where is the address of the emergency?" she said as she answered another call. "I'm hearing rustling in someone's pocket."

After about two minutes, the accidental caller finally realized who he called.

"OK, so everything's all right," Dunlap said after the caller finally picked up his phone.

"He finally heard me," she said. "He said he accidentally put it in his pocket, and he apologized."

But that's not how it always works. Sometimes, handling those misdials can be a lot more time-consuming. Every call that comes into dispatch has to be verified to ensure an emergency isn't in progress.

"When I'm answering a call that's misdialed accidentally, and the other lines are ringing with a real emergency, it slows my answer time down, and then it slows the response time down of me getting a call entered and help on the way," Dunlap said.

Dunlap said more misdialed calls have come in with the increasing use of cell phones. About 75 percent of the 911 calls made in Plano come from cell phones.

"Especially since the Blackberry came out -- the phones that do not close, a lot of people will press the buttons," Dunlap said.

But she said there is an easy fix for "butt-dialing."

"Just pay attention to where they're putting their cell phone, especially if it's in their pocket, and they're sitting down," she said. "Just pay attention to those things and utilize the cell lock."

Dunlap also said callers who mistakenly dial 911 should stay on the line so operators can quickly determine there is no emergency and then move on to their next call.

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