PUBLIC SAFETY - Cell Phones Blamed for "911" False Alarms : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Title: Cell phones blamed for "911" false alarms

By Beverly Ford and Paul F. Gero/The Arizona Republic

March 31, 2000

Besides handling real emergencies, 911 operator Toni Gebbia must deal with calls placed by careless cell phone users.

Hundreds of cell phone users are calling 911 by accident, clogging the Valley's emergency switchboards and tying up operators for crucial minutes as they try to determine whether the caller is in need of help.

The culprit apparently is the one-touch button on many phones that's pre-programmed to dial 911.

"It's a national problem," said Jim Wortham, the system administrator for the Maricopa Association of 911 Emergency Telephone Systems, which coordinates Maricopa County's 911 operation. He estimates that 15 to 20 percent of all 911 cell phone calls are made in error.

The accidental calls often occur when the phone is jostled in a purse or car, Wortham said, and owners are unaware of them.

"It's burdening the system," said Deputy Chief Robert Khan of the Phoenix Fire Department, whose wife accidentally called 911 when her phone activated while in her purse.

"We've had open lines while operators try to determine whether there was a car accident, a shooting or a fire, only to find that it's just someone singing along with their car radio," Khan said.

Phoenix 911 dispatchers alone receive about 500 accidental cell phone calls daily. Other communities average 10 to 30, Wortham said.

Officials said cell phone users can reduce the bogus calls by turning off their phones when they are not in use or by being more careful handling them. Officials said cell phone owners also can reprogram the button to make sure it doesn't call 911 if pushed by accident.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8543.


-- (, March 31, 2000

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