HANCOCK COUNTY — “We get them once an hour or more,” said Greg Duda, 911 Dispatcher, and Hancock County 911 Public Information Officer.
Duda said the Hancock County 911 Center is on track to beat the 7,300 accidental calls they received in 2020. Since January 1, the center has received 3,450 accidental calls. Summer and fall are the busiest times for calls like these so experienced dispatchers in the facility expect it to be a record year.
The issue has a trickle-down effect. When dispatchers receive hang-up calls or no response on the other end of a call they must investigate and ensure the caller is okay. Dispatchers will call back and try to get a response or text the phone to confirm it was an accidental phone call.
Every accidental call that comes into the 911 center is also checked out by law enforcement.
“Even if somebody makes contact and says it was an accident, we still respond to that location to make sure that it’s an accidental dial and everything is okay,” Deputy Kyle Addison with Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said.
Addison works during the day and he and his fellow deputies respond to between five and 10 911 misdials every single shift.
“A lot of people will have no idea that they did it and when I go to these houses, I say hey what happened? They’ll say, ‘Oh I was just trying to turn up the volume on my phone and it just started ringing.’” Addison said
Duda explained there are a lot of factors contributing to the surge in these types of calls. During the pandemic, people have been spending a lot more time on their phones and there is growing popularity of apple watches and wearable technology.
Apple watches have similar Emergency S.O.S. features to the iPhone. On iPhones, there are several ways to trigger the feature. That’s where Duda believes most of the accidental calls are coming from.
On an iPhone 8 or later, pressing the power button and one of the volume buttons at the same time will cause the screen to display the Emergency S.O.S. slider. From there, it just takes one swipe to call 911.
If you hold down the power button and volume button together, a countdown will begin on your phone and eventually call 911.
If you have an iPhone 7 or earlier, pressing the side button or top button five times will trigger the emergency S.O.S slider as well.
“Children with old phones, that is also a big source. Kids playing with an old, deactivated phone can still call 911 and that’s a large part of some of the other numbers that we see,” Duda said.
Duda explained that each law enforcement department can choose whether they respond to their 911 misdials assigned to them by the dispatch center. In Hancock County, almost all the agencies will respond to a 911 misdial to make sure everyone is ok.
"Just because you never know what could be happening,” Addison said.
There are a few solutions to help dispatchers and law enforcement. Duda said if you do accidentally dial 911, stay on the line and explain it was an accident, an officer will likely still stop by but will be aware it’s not an emergency.
You can also deactivate the emergency feature in your phone in your settings. If you do this, you will still be able to call 911 by dialing like normal.
Another tool that will help in the case of a misdial is Smart 911. Hancock County and several others in Indiana subscribe to this platform. When you sign up you fill out your information like name, address, and how many people are in your home. All this information will then immediately show up for dispatchers when you call 911. It will make it easier for them to quickly determine if the call was accidental or if an emergency is in progress.