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Alaska State Troopers say Fairbanks dispatch receiving high amount of accidental 911 calls

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 3:32 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Alaska State Troopers dispatch center in Fairbanks has been receiving an unusually high number of accidental 911 calls.

According to Capt. Eric Spitzer with the Alaska State Troopers, the accidental calls use up needed resources for other potential emergencies.

“What happens is when there’s an accidental 911 call, the dispatcher has to call that number back, and depending on whether someone answers it or not, [that] determines whether they actually talk to somebody,” Spitzer said. “They need to research that, and they need to actually determine that it was in fact an accidental call. If people don’t answer the phone, someone could be in peril. It may be a legitimate 911 call and we’re trying to figure it out. We can’t just dismiss the call as an accidental call until we determine it’s accidental. So it’s pulling time from dispatchers, [and] in many cases it causes troopers to have to respond to a scene, a location where that phone might be. It’s taking time and resources from both troopers and dispatchers.”

Along with accidental use of the SOS feature on many smart phones, there’s another common cause for accidental 911 calls, according to Spitzer.

“Some of the most common reasons for these accidental calls are children playing with the phone,” Spitzer said. “A lot of times these phones are disabled, the cellular service is disabled, so the parent thinks that it’s not able to make a 911 call when, in fact, it is making a 911 call.”

There are ways to help mitigate accidental 911 calls. For example, if a call to 911 is made by mistake, it is recommended that you stay on the line and inform the dispatcher of the error.

“A good way to mitigate this is for parents to teach their children,” Spitzer said. “Children should know how to call 911 - if there’s an actual emergency, a child should know how to do that. However, parents should also teach children [when] not to call 911. It’s not a toy, and it’s not something to amuse children [when] they call it up and they get somebody on the other line and they have a good time with it. It’s wasting a valuable resource, so I encourage parents to teach their children about it. Additionally, if you have a phone that you believe is turned off, and it starts ringing, answer that phone. It could be our dispatcher calling back after a 911 call, [to] make sure if it’s actually an accidental 911. Just tell the dispatcher what happened, and that way we can clear the slate on that.”

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