How smart phones create issues for 911 operators

By Taylor MacPherson
January 4, 2018 - 2:00pm Updated: January 4, 2018 - 2:51pm

Smart phones may make our lives easier in a lot of ways, but for 911 operators they can also create headaches.

Officials with Sask911, the provincial agency that coordinates all emergency responses across the province, have cautioned residents not to rely on emergency features built into their smart phone’s operating system. For example, newer Apple iPhones include an “SOS” feature that can be accessed by clicking the lock button five times, but according to Emergency Management and Fire Safety Commissioner Duane McKay, the feature does not send the caller’s location to Sask911.

“There’s nothing wrong with the applications that are being developed, but we want to make sure people understand how to use them and when to use them,” McKay said. “We want to make sure people understand there are limitations.”

With many people receiving new smart phones over the holidays, McKay said their operators have had “quite a few” people dialling 911 to test the features and see if they work. They do work, McKay said, and needlessly testing them could put lives at risk.

“When you do that you’re eating up our resources,” he said. “Our 911 call-takers are answering all of these calls, and they are not able to answer life-and-death types of calls for real emergencies.”

The proud owners of new smart phones have another annoying habit, McKay said. Rates of pocket-dialing always seem to increase around the holidays, as people put their phones into purses or pockets without locking the screens.

“Those rates have been high since smart phones were introduced, and they do create a bit of a problem for us,” he said.

When someone does accidentally dial 911, McKay said operators can be tied up for significant amounts of time as they listen to the background noise and try to determine if an emergency has occurred.

Sask911 operators received more than 330,000 calls between January and November of 2017. Of those, 58 per cent were made from cellular phones. A total of 40,046 calls were received where the caller hung up after dialling 911.

In the event of an emergency, 911 callers were advised to remain calm, state your location and which emergency services are required, and don’t hang up until advised to do so by an operator.


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On Twitter: @TMacPhersonNews

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