‘Lock it before you pocket:’ 911 pocket dials an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia

Metro Halifax
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HALIFAX - Misdialed 911 calls are an ongoing problem in Nova Scotia.

A locked smartphone is shown.

About 20 per cent of 911 calls are pocket dials or non-emergency calls, and that percentage has remained consistent over the last few years.

“We ask that people who may accidentally call 911 to not hang up,” said Tracy Barron with Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office. “Let the call taker know that you’ve called 911 by accident so resources are not dispatched.”

Dispatchers receive about 240,000 calls every year. Some of those calls are people looking for other police or city services.

“911 is for emergencies only,” said Barron. “If someone’s life, health, safety or property is threatened and help is needed immediately call 911. If in doubt, still call 911.”

Halifax Regional Police said officers were called to 5,295 misdialed 911 calls in 2013.

Const. Pierre Bourdages explained that number reflects the calls that could unequivocally be classified as “misdial.”

Dispatchers have handled even more calls which were either abandoned, misdialed, hang ups, or reflected an unknown trouble.

It’s uncertain how many are pocket or purse dialed calls.

“They’re not coded like this,” said Bourdages. “But given the technology, where most phones will allow you to dial 911 from a locked screen, people have to be cognoscente of the capacity of their phone.”

Older wireless phones will automatically call 911 if the No. 9 is held down for an extra few seconds, according to the United States Federal Communications Commission.

Nova Scotia is not alone in this problem, although our numbers have plateaued whereas other areas have seen increases.

Alberta police attribute the increase in cell phone technology to the increase in pocket dialed 911s. Toronto police are dealing with a similar increase and are trumpeting the motto “lock it before you pocket.”

The fine for wrongfully calling 911 is $693.95.

“Carry your phone in an actual holder to avoid accidental touching,” Bourdages said.

Organizations: Nova Scotia Emergency Management Office, United States Federal Communications Commission

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Alberta, Toronto

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