911 Dispatchers are supposed to get help to people in need, but dispatchers in our area say their call centers are getting jammed with hang-ups.
In 2007, New Hanover County dispatchers dealt with 10,516 hang-up calls. That averages out to 29 each day. Each time someone calls and hangs up, time that could be spent on serious emergencies is wasted. Each hang up takes an average of two to four minutes to check on, and if no one answers when the dispatcher calls the number back, a law enforcement officer is sent to the location, tying up more precious time.
"It's very frustrating, and it ties up the dispatcher. They're answering the call, trying to get back up with the person, and meanwhile there could be some other real emergencies coming in," Brunswick County dispatch director Tom Rogers said.
Dispatcher Shawn Neighbors said, "We might get overwhelmed with calls, and you might catch one of those in the middle, and that can get frustrating."
The Department of Justice says southeast North Carolina has a high number of 911 misdials mainly because the telephone area code 910 is so similar to the emergency line.
"A lot of people are trying to dial 910 and will sometimes hit the one twice," New Hanover County assistant dispatch supervisor Brenda Hewlett said.
Dispatchers urge callers to use caution when dialing, and if you have an open face cell phone, lock the keypad so it does not accidentally dial out. If you do realize that you've called 911, don't hang up.
"If you accidentally dial 911, you should stay on the phone. When one of our telecommunicators answers, tell them you accidentally dialed," Hewlett said.
Brunswick County dispatch deals with an average of 20 hang-ups a day, while Pender County gets about three.
In North Carolina there are no fines for accidentally calling 911, but you can be arrested if you misuse the 911 system, such as prank calling or harassing dispatchers.