Accidental cell phone calls to E-911 cause problems


White County Sheriff Steve Page is asking residents to check their cell phones and make sure they are not accidentally placing calls to 911.

“In the month of March, we had 72 accidental calls come through our E-911 center,” Page said. “We have to respond even if the caller has hung up or tells us it was an accident. We have to send a unit out to check and make sure everyone is OK.”

While most phones are equipped with an SOS feature that makes calling 911 quick and easy, it can also result in a lot of calls made accidentally as phones get bumped around in bags, backpacks, and pockets or by small children playing with a guardian’s phone. This feature can be turned off in a phone’s settings if a user is finding that their phone is accidentally calling for help too often.

Page said the other danger stemming from the accidental calls is along the lines of the old story, ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf.’ The sheriff said when accidental calls repeatedly come from the same number, it’s likely that dispatchers and deputies will believe a person when they say they didn’t mean to call or possibly not return a hang-up.

“That’s dangerous because people can sometimes call and hang up or call and say they don’t need help when they feel threatened by someone at their location,” he explained. “We don’t ever want anyone to be using a code for help and not receive it because of the number of accidental calls being placed.”

Page said another way that residents can help cut down on the number of accidental calls is to check their home security systems. The sheriff said some systems will have a short in the wiring, batteries that are dying, have been installed improperly, or have been set for motion without thinking about pets roaming around or curtains blowing when windows are opened intentionally.

“We get calls from security systems, and, just like a call from an individual, we have to respond,” he explained. “We don’t have a lot of manpower, and we are using a lot of it to check on false alarms.”

While on the topic of 911 calls, Page urged residents to use the county’s non-emergency phone number, (931) 738-7111, when they need assistance for events that are not life threatening. The sheriff said using the non-emergency phone line for things like animals at large, welfare checks, storm damage, and sighted traffic violations will help dispatchers and deputies both prioritize responses.

“Someone will respond, will come assist you even when you call the non-emergency number,” the sheriff explained. “It’s just that someone else might be in a situation that could be in a life-threatening situation, in the way of immediate harm, need immediate medical care. Knowing how to best utilize our resources is important in our ability to help our community.”

Page also said calling the sheriff’s office directly when needing an officer to come to a location actually slows down the response time. While the sheriff said he wants to be accessible to the residents of White County and is always open to listening to their concerns, needs, and questions, he warned if immediate assistance is needed, calling his office is not the best option.

“We don’t dispatch officers or emergency vehicles from the sheriff’s office,” he explained. “That has to be done through the E-911 call center. If you need an officer or need to report something, the best way to get the assistance you need is to call either 911 or the non-emergency number depending on the situation.”

Of course, calling 911 is important when emergency services – whether that be police, fire, ambulance, or rescue – are needed. Page listed domestic violence, missing children, vehicular accidents, fires, and medical emergencies among some of the things for which residents should use the emergency number.

“The bottom line is that we want our people here in White County to be safe,” he explained. “Making sure 911 is being used properly, cutting down on the accidental calls, and using the non-emergency number when appropriate will help us make sure we can get to the people who need us, when they need us.”          


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