Update: The Hangup with 911

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The numbers were mind-blowing, and many of you shared our shock to learn Sedgwick Co. 911 was saddled with just shy of 400 misdials, each day in 2015. It’s been almost a year since we took a closer look at the epidemic of 911 misdials and the reasons behind them.

We are getting better, but the progress is slow. In 2015, 25 percent of the calls to Sedgwick Co. 911 were misdials. Last year, the number of total mistake calls dropped by 11,000, but still more than one in five of those calls were accidents.

The Director of Emergency Communications is at a loss for a solution. One year after she pleaded with the public for help, the message is still missing the mark.

“If I’m on your open line listening to your grocery shopping or your child playing on the phone, the next person calling in whose child is not breathing or whose house is on fire is not getting through because I’m on the phone with you,” Elora Forshee told us.

WHAT’S CHANGING

Since our last visit, Sedgwick Co. started using the state’s next generation 911 system. One of the benefits is abandoned calls, or hang ups, are now transferred to a separate queue, which gets a devoted call taker. It eliminates the burden on the rest of the call center because that person is solely responsible for calling those numbers back.

“I’d like them to be answering inbound real emergencies all the time,” Forshee said. “I don’t want them chasing abandoned calls.”

That’s not to mention the financial cost of staffing that position 20 hours a day.

ABANDONED CALLS VS. OPEN LINES

Open lines, or pocket dials, account for the biggest drain on resources. The new system can’t kick those calls to a separate queue, so the responsibility falls on call takers and dispatchers to make sure there’s no actual emergency. Those can take more than a minute to process each.

“We just listen for anything in the background that could be an emergency,” said dispatcher Mary Showalter. “You know people arguing. We just ask multiple times, ‘does anybody have an emergency, is anybody there?’”

They also have touch-tone options for people who are hearing impaired, and in the next month, Sedgwick Co. hopes to add text to 911. That would provide one more way for someone to ask for help.

“If there’s somebody in your house and you don’t feel comfortable calling or speaking you can text and give us your address,” Showalter said. “There’s a potential for more accurate information, rather than just an open line.”

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

For now, call takers and dispatchers are still left to deal with more than 350 misdialed calls, on average, each day. And yet Forshee says she’s not ready to suggest fining offenders.

“I don’t think we are at that point, we want to make this a service that’s available for everybody, that’s open for everybody, that’s not punitive in nature,” she told us. “We want to still stay that course, but the flip side is we need some help. “

And that’s where we come in. The easiest thing we all can and should do is to lock our phones every time we’re done using them. Take the battery out of old phones since even without service they can still make emergency calls. Don’t let children play with them alone, and learn about the shortcuts with new technology.

It’s easier than ever for your smart phone or smart watch to make an emergency call…just make sure that call is one you meant to make.

“If I’m on your open line… the next person calling in whose child is not breathing of whose house is on fire is not getting through because I’m on the phone with you.”      – Elora Forshee


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