Frivolous calls slowing down 911 emergency system - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Frivolous calls slowing down 911 emergency system

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – Frivolous 911 calls are slowing down the system on a national level, including at the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

At the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office Communication Center when dispatchers hear a beep it means someone is waiting on the line to get on the phone with a dispatcher, but the lines could be tied up with a frivolous or pocket dial - delaying the emergency call.

In some cases, 911 callers waited 47-seconds for a dispatcher. Dispatchers said the average wait time for 911 callers is 15-seconds, but the goal is to reduce it to ten seconds.

“If no one is going to get killed, and no one is going to get hurt and if it’s not for police, fire or paramedics, then it is not 911,” said Captain Dave Brown with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Under California law it is a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine for abusing 911 with a non-emergency.

Also overloading the 911 system are pocket dials.

In some cases it's kids playing with a phone and dispatchers have to call back to make sure there is no emergency. It is a call back that can take up to three minutes, putting callers with a real emergency on hold.

“While they are tying up 911, we have someone else calling in reference to a possible heart attack or a multi-vehicle accident,” said Sofia Menvielle, a supervisor emergency services dispatcher.

In 2015, inadvertent calls made up 30-percent of call volume, according to the sheriff’s department.

The San Diego Police Department reported that last year during a five week period, 22-percent of its 911 calls were accidental.

“Nearly a quarter of our call volume could be reduced if everyone takes a moment if they have 911 as a preset,” said Lt. Scott Wahl with the San Diego Police Department.

While people may think they have an emergency, county emergency workers encourage the public not to abuse the system and recommends cellphone users to lock their phones.

“We truly want to be there when people need help. We want them to be able to place that 911 call and for us to answer in a timely manner and send them the help they need,” said Jeff Haebert, San Diego Sheriff’s Communication Coordinator.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is reviewing its policy to see if there is a way that pocket dials will not overwhelm the system.

One of those ways is to determine if there is no sign of distress made from a wireless call. If there is no distress detected, the dispatcher would not be required to call back.

That means time could go down from three minutes to one minute.

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