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‘Rogue’ dials to 911 blocking legitimate calls

Trousers and purses that make rogue calls to 911 are not only a nuisance but could also hold up a genuine emergency call to the E-Comm 911 dispatcher, the head of E-Comm told Township council last week.

The calls are being made by cellphones which dial 911 when inadvertently jarred in clothing and purses.

What is needed, said E-Comm president and CEO David Guscott, is a design change in mobile phones so that it requires a second step, such as depressing another key, to make authentic 911 calls.

Guscott said that the five second target for answering a 911 call is achieved 95 per cent of the time. Hanging up achieves nothing, he said, because dispatchers are required to follow upon every call. Silence at the end of the line achieves nothing, because dispatchers know that there are times when the person making the call cannot speak.

He cited a recent example in which two children, terrified when someone broke into their home, hid in a closet where they dialed 911 but could not speak to the dispatcher in case their voices were heard by the intruder.

E-Comm, the emergency communications centre for southwest B.C., was created after the 1994 riots in Vancouver that followed the Vancouver Canucks defeat by the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup riot.

E-Comm’s annual report for 2010 notes that the radio system was put to the test during the last year’s Winter Olympics, during which calls soared by 42 per cent in Vancouver and 34 per cent in Richmond.

Dispatchers handled more than 38,000 emergency and non-emergency calls during the Games system, the highest traffic in its 11-year history.

The system, Guscott said, was put to the test again when Vancouver lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on June 15 this year.

Between 7:45 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. that night, E-Comm received 2,000 calls, four times the normal volume for that time span. The system “performed extremely well under tremendous pressure,” he said.

The Independent Riot Review Report said of the E-Comm system that it showed “that the investment in people, technology and infrastructure made after the ’94 riot has worked exceptionally well. It provides a perfect foundation for the operation of an emergency public information service.”

As for those abandoned and accidental calls, education is key.

“People often hang up (after an inadvertent call to 911),” Guscott said. “It’s the worst thing you can do.”

More than 300 abandoned or accidental calls are made each day, and the issue of cell phones that automatically dial when jarred “is one of the facts of life in the phone-dependent world we live in,” he said.

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