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911 call abuses tie up city resources
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The 911 emergency reporting system has existed for some 25 years, and has proven to be an effective mechanism for reporting crimes, fires, medical emergencies and traffic collisions. The system is intended for true "emergencies," which can be subjective, and therein lies the problem. Ceres' emergency dispatch center handles close to 1,000 911 calls every month.

Nationwide, the 911 system has become overwhelmed with calls that it was never intended handle, resulting in delays in the time it takes dispatchers to answer calls for true emergency situations. It's estimated that only about 15 percent of 911 calls nationwide are for legitimate emergencies of life and death situations or immediate threats to persons or property. There are so many non-qualifying 911 calls made that not only do they tie up critical phone lines, but dispatchers become overworked and prone to making mistakes in handling real emergencies.

Dispatchers can expect to receive calls from people requesting directions, complaining about city services and requesting advice for civil matters. Children playing with the phone are a problem, as are unlocked cell phones in purses or pockets that "auto-dial" 911. Misdialed numbers, like the prefix 011 (which is used for international calling) or 411, frequently leads to 911 being dialed instead.

Dispatch center phones can flood with calls at the sound of claps of thunder, power outages or when there is a traffic collision. Dispatchers can expect dozens of calls reporting the same incident. Dispatch phones also ring when traffic signals are not working. False alarms not only reduce the availability of 911 lines, but consume valuable fire and police resources.

Others misuse of the 911 system by calling it to report illegal parking, barking dogs, loud music complaints, lost property and minor "cold" crime cases. Some of these problems are unavoidable, but much can be done to reduce their frequency.

All too often, 911 is dialed for non-emergency health situations such as headaches, fevers, stomach aches, flu-like symptoms, etc. Just last week, Ceres Fire Department personnel were dispatched to an "emergency" call, only to arrive and find out that it was for someone with a fever and headache. Firefighters are trained and intended to provide assistance in cases of life-threatening emergencies. Typically, such emergencies involve severe bleeding, difficulty breathing, unconsciousness or altered level of consciousness, broken bones, or other serious injuries and medical conditions that one reasonably believes constitutes an immediate threat to life. Calling 911 for non-emergency situations can result in limited resources unnecessarily responding to persons who are experiencing problems that need to be cared for by a primary physician. These abuses lead to delayed fire department responses in cases where the emergency services are truly needed.

Some callers exaggerate the seriousness of events to justify their 911 call, or to receive expedited service. In Los Angeles where police responses were particularly slow, 911 callers would falsely claim that shots were fired, resulting in automatic Code 3 police responses. This, of course, is illegal and unnecessarily jeopardizes the public as the police speed to the "emergency."

Most all police and fire agencies have non-emergency phone numbers which should be used for routine requests for service or other kinds of business. Local governments and state agencies that provide public safety services exist for the sole purpose of serving the public; so, this effort to eliminate non-emergency calls to the 911 system is not about reducing services. To the contrary, we seek to improve the 911 function by using it specifically for bona fide emergencies. If everyone cooperates and does the right thing, police and fire response times will, no doubt, improve. At the same time, there will be fewer unjustified code three emergency vehicle runs, resulting in a safer community for citizens and emergency responders alike.