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2004-11/25 | Unintentional Cell Phone Calls to 9-1-1

Immediate Release  -  November 25, 2004
Unintentional Cell Phone Calls to 9-1-1
New automated pilot-process should lower 9-1-1 hold times
The Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) answers nearly one million calls for service each year to 9-1-1 and non-emergency in Multnomah County.  Roughly 55% of those calls come from cellular telephones and nearly 40% of those calls are unintentionally dialed.  Phones unintentionally dial 9-1-1 when they are stored without locked keypads.  Telephone keypads can be pressed by other objects in purses and pockets, completely unknown to the phone owner and tie up dispatchers.
When these unintentionally dialed calls come into the Center, they are treated as real emergencies until dispatchers can determine otherwise.  The resulting problem is that citizens with real emergencies, who dial 9-1-1, must needlessly wait in line, on hold, while dispatchers process unintentionally dialed cell phone calls.  This problem has been ongoing for several years and is becoming a bigger issue with more people carrying cell phones then ever before.
Beginning December 1, 2004, all cell phone calls to 9-1-1 within Multnomah County will be routed through a voice-mail like system.  They will hear a short message, repeated in Spanish, followed by TTY tones for the hearing and speech impaired.  The message will be similar to: "You have dialed 9-1-1.  If you need assistance, press ONE or say HELP."  If the caller presses a key or says, "help", they will be routed to a 9-1-1 Dispatcher.  There will be no change to the traditional landline telephone process.
This concept has been successfully tested in Reno, Nevada and several othercommunities in California.  We realize this will not eliminate all of the unintentional calls to 9-1-1, but Reno, Nevada experienced a 30+% reduction in cellular call volume when they implemented this system.  We expect to have similar results here in Multnomah County.
BOEC Director, Carl Simpson said, "The system is amazingly simple to operate and we have complete control.  If we find that the system is not working for us, we will turn it off."  In fact, Simpson will report the findings of this pilot project to the Portland City Council in February 2005.
Simpson added, “The goal of this project is to reduce the number of unintentional calls to 9-1-1.  By doing so, we are able to help people with real emergencies more quickly.  We believe this process will help save lives."