40 Percent of All NYC’s 911 Calls are ‘Butt Dials,’ Report Says

In New York City inadvertent 911 calls are becoming a real problem.

Nearly 4 million calls a year to 911 operators in New York City, are a result of “butt dialing.” It usually happens when a person accidentally makes a call when the phone is in his back pocket or elsewhere. Photo: Michael Ashbridge/Flickr

According to reports, Big Apple’s emergency communications system receives nearly 4 million calls a year from people who inadvertently dial 911 on cell phones.

The New York Daily News claims, an astounding 38% of some 10.4 million calls to 911 during 2010 involved such accidental or false alarm “short calls” of 19 seconds or less — that’s an average of 10,700 false calls a day.

The data show that most of the calls – in other words “butt calls” – made when someone made contact with their cellphones in their back pockets, purses or elsewhere. The real problem is that emergency dispatchers have to verify whether anyone was on the line.

By the way, the statistics can be found in an independent consultant’s study of the city’s emergency communications system that Mayor Bloomberg finally released Friday after a long court battle with leaders of the firefighters unions who were demanding the report be made public.

The 911 system handled 3,910,373 butt calls in 2010, the report noted — even more than the 3,495,716 calls in which police cars were dispatched to actual emergencies.

From January to April 2011 short calls increased to 39% of all calls handled by police operators. To compare with, in 2003, only 29% of all calls to 911 were received from cell phones. However, by 2010 that jumped to nearly 59%, and is expected to keep growing.

“The increased proliferation of cellular telephones has caused a dramatic increase in the number of accidental 911 calls made,” the report claims.

“The NYPD reported the 2010 System Average Total Talk Time was 1:08 minutes. Since the total number of calls received includes approximately 3.9 million short calls, utilizing this metric as currently calculated does not accurately reflect the NYPD’s time spent on received and processed 9-1-1 calls.”

Unfortunately, almost nothing has been done by city officials in response, the report noted. They are not trying to keep track of cell phones that repeatedly make false calls, or even trying to study the source of all the false calls.

The Virginia-based Winbourne Consulting Group, which released the data, urged City Hall to launch “a public awareness” campaign in order to reduce accidental calls and “significantly decrease the work load on the 911 system,” thus increasing “average speed of answer.”

The report also provides the results od the examination of the system that included a new $680 million call center that combined the operations of police, fire and medical dispatchers.

As NBC New York says, city officials explained that the update improved response times, eliminated inefficiencies and reduced confusion for callers, but Friday’s report seemed to call some of those statements into question.

“Statistical information provided to City Hall management to demonstrate the success of the (Unified Call Taking) project contained errors and does not provide a clear picture of the effectiveness of UCT related business processes,” the report reads.

The “butt-dial” problem can’t be linked to New York only. Last year, it was reported that 20 percent of emergency calls to 911 operators in Evanston, Ill., were accidental as well.

“I don’t think the public realizes how often this happens,” Evanston 911 coordinator Perry Polinski told the station.

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