A majority of Colorado 911 calls are from cellphones
LONGMONT, Mar 31, 2012 (Daily Times-Call - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Longmont's emergency dispatch center fielded 198,000 calls in 2011 with 32,482 of those going directly to 911.
Of course, there were not 32,482 actual emergencies.
Statewide, 4.4 million 911 calls were processed and 83.5 percent of them came in from cellular phones. In Longmont, the 911 dispatch center has eight lines dedicated to calls made directly through 911. Every hour of every day, dispatchers deal with 911 calls made from pockets, purses, children playing with cellphones, or even a cellphone tumbling in a clothes drier.
Kristine Mason, supervisor at Longmont's dispatch center, said all emergency calls are answered within two rings and any hangup or incomplete call requires dispatchers to call back to try to determine what, if any, emergency is under way.
She said sometimes people allow children to play with phones that no longer have service, but so long as the phone has a battery with a charge, it can call 911.
Mason recalls receiving up to 15 911 calls from one child playing with an out-of-service phone.
"You can hear it is a little kid," she said.
Callbacks can be tough, too. Out-of-service phones don't accept callbacks from 911. Other times, a child will answer, but won't hand over the phone to an adult.
"We had just under 3,600, what we call abandoned phone calls (last year)," Mason said. "It is a problem for us because it ties up a 911 line."
She said false calls did come in while dispatchers juggled 911 calls last Friday from two planes crashing after a midair collision.
Cellphones can cause other misunderstandings between callers and dispatchers in emergency situations. For instance, many callers believe that dispatchers can tell where they are calling from, according to Longmont communications manager Patti West.
While dispatchers can look to phone service providers to try to help locate a cellphone in life-or-death circumstances, it can take 15 to 20
minutes to get the phone company's help. Mason said some companies work well with law enforcement, but others do not.
She said when calling 911, have an address or cross streets ready. If a caller does not know his or her exact location, landmarks can be helpful. She also noted that while one dispatcher is asking questions about a situation, another is sending help. The questions do not delay the dispatch.
As landlines fall out of favor and cellphones become more popular, some phone users are using VoIP, or voice over Internet protocol services. Those lines must be registered in order to get to the right dispatch centers. In Colorado last year, 2.9 percent of 911 calls were from VoIP customers, or 129,000 calls total.
Mason said her crew took a call from California after a Longmont resident moved there and continued using VoIP without updating the registration.
Pierrette J. Shields can be reached at 303-684-5273 or email@example.com.
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