A significant number of the 240 million 911 calls each year end up being non-emergency calls. Many of those, is where an actual person isn’t even on the line. Unfortunately, while anecdotal references may be available, the actual numbers of these SILENT CALLS remain unknown. While many assume that most of these calls are accidental and part of the typical “but dial” phenomenon common on cell phones, there are actually a few different reasons why these phantom calls arrive into our 911 centers.
The NENA Standard for 9-1-1 Call Processing (NENA-STA-020.1-2020) consolidates the work of several previous documents and categorizes calls into three primary categories:
An abandoned call, hang-up call, or a short duration call, occurs:
• When callers disconnect BEFORE The call is answered, OR
•. When not enough information is available to confirm if the call is an emergency
A disconnected call occurs:
• When a caller disconnects AFTER the call has been answered, OR
• When not enough information is available to confirm if the call is an emergency
A non-responsive call is:
• An open voice line call where the caller is not responding
All non-responsive calls MUST be interrogated with a TTY/TDD to determine if the caller is attempting to report an emergency using a TTY/TDD device
Regardless of the type or source, all hang-up, abandoned, or disconnected 9-1-1 calls for service SHOULD be:
An attempt made to contact the caller
Cellular calls pose a specific challenge as;
• Location may be inaccurate
• Individual carriers need to be contacted to get additional information
• Carriers often require that exigent conditions exist
911 may only have a 911-XXX-XXXX caller ID in the case of a Non-Service-Initiated or NSI phone with no current service plan
MLTS / PBX CALLS
Call from an MLTS or PBX can also be problematic or troublesome for PSAPs. In addition to the problem of hiding the location of the original calling station behind trunk lines, they are also another constant source of misdialed 911 calls. Because users typically dial a nine as an access code to get an outside line, and Kari’s Law requires that 9-1-1 can be dialed directly without having to use an access code, callers are constantly dialing 9-1-1 by mistake, and then hanging up when they realize their mistake, or when a 9-1-1 call taker answers with, “9-1-1 where is your emergency?” In many cases, the call goes through to 9-1-1 and becomes one of the three silent calls mentioned earlier in this post. The main problem here is that the caller hangs up. It’s often out of fear, or terrible embarrassment, and even unfounded concerns that they may be fined or in trouble. Fortunately, none of that is ever true, especially if they stay on the line and say three simple words, “Oops! I’m sorry”. At worst, they are likely to get a warning from the dispatcher to be more careful in the future, unless your business is flagged as a frequent flyer, and excessively problematic.
CALLBACKS FROM 9-1-1
If the caller says nothing, the 9-1-1 call taker may call back whatever number they received. If it’s the main business number, and the enterprise has not installed a 9-1-1 notification system, the person answering the main line likely has no awareness or visibility that a call was placed, real or otherwise. This in itself may create a dispatch to the location to confirm nothing is wrong, and after so many cry-wolf calls, public safety first responders become desensitized to the urgency.
WHERE SHOULD 9-1-1 CALLBACKS GO?
Many will argue that a call back from 911 should go to the person who dialed (or misdialed) the 9-1-1 center. Looking at the situation from an operational perspective, two conditions exist:
The first is when 911 was a valid call.
The caller genuinely needed assistance, but disconnected too early for some reason.
Were they in danger?
Were they physically ill and collapsed?
We’re staff on-site even notified?
Chances are that the call back may not even be answered, and if no on-site notification was made, staff in the building isn’t even aware of the call event.
The second case is a 9-1-1 mis-dial:
The caller knows that they mis-dialed 9-1-1
Likely they will not answer the phone call back
If they do, the response to a query will likely be, “I have no idea! I didn’t dial 9-1-1!“
This is why I believe the best practice for this situation, is to have the callbacks all terminate at a location that is staffed by security individuals that can assist, and ideally have been notified of the initial call event In the first place. This is easily programmed the MLTS, And highlights the need for on site notification during real emergency calls, as well as accidental calls to 9-1-1.
LOCAL AGENCY POLICY
Despite the NENA policy for Public Safety to respond, it is left up to the individual agency to establish their policy. Enterprise customers need to make an attempt to minimize the number of accidental 9-1-1 calls from their facilities, and should work with Public Safety on an appropriate response protocol that can be deployed efficiently.
9-1-1 hang-up calls can often be considered nuisance calls, and there is no doubt that they waste valuable resources, as they take emergency call takers and first responders away from their primary job. In some extreme cases, a municipality or agency may actually find a business for repeated 911 hang-up calls, and some of the fines can be fairly hefty. It would not be uncommon to see a $1500 fee imposed for worst-case common offenders. While that may seem excessive, it actually barely covers the cost of emergency responders, their equipment, and all of the expenses incurred in that response.
CONSULT A TELECOM EXPERT – NOT 911
The problem becomes multi-faceted when public safety officials try to solve the problem for the enterprise and offer assistance. MLTS users often call the PSAP for guidance and then follow it religiously thinking the PSAP is a trusted and knowledgeable technical resource. What they fail to understand though, is that a 9-1-1 call taker or 9-1-1 supervisor has likely never seen an MLTS, let alone worked on one from a programming perspective. There are, however, several best practices for dial plans and programming that can minimize or even illuminate most of the 9-1-1 misdial call events. Most importantly, those programming changes will be done in such a way where they don’t block valid 911 call attempts or affect the compliance of the system.
The Society of Communications and Technology Consultants International (https://www.sctcconsultants.org) is an excellent resource for Consultant expertise and maintains a specific code of ethics that is unsurpassed in the industry.
911inform, LLC is a proud member of the SCTC Vendor Advisory Council, and supports their Kari’s Law Task Force initiative. Hank Hunt – Kari’s Dad, and president of the Kari Hunt Foundation, is also an advisor to this task force.
DON’T BE A PEST TO 9-1-1
The primary rule of thumb here is to absolutely NOT be a burden to your local 9-1-1 center. Your SECONDARY rule is to contact your MLTS vendor and ask them for assistance on your particular make and model number, as well as a software release. A properly programmed solution can be fully compliant with all legislation, as well as provide on-site notification of real and misdialed calls to 9-1-1. By identifying particular calls made in error, it provides the opportunity to retrain the users on an as-needed basis. For reference, the news story on accidental hang-up calls affecting Public Safety can be found at: