Rise in 911 calls attributed to cell phones
The phones at the Washington dispatch center have been ringing off the hook. At least, that’s what it seems like compared to how many calls the center received a few years ago. Since 2002, the number of calls received by the dispatch center has risen 45 percent.
Some towns in the county have seen a larger increase in calls than others. The folks in Riverside more than doubled the number of 911 calls they made since 2002, when they went from 187 to 449 calls, an increase of 140 percent. Washingtonians dialed 911 nearly 50 percent more often in 2009 than in 2002, going from 3,389 calls to 4,985 calls. Kalona went from 442 to 761 calls in that period, an increase of 72 percent.
What explains the large increase in call volume in such a short time? Communications Supervisor Cara Sorrells said that the steady rise is almost certainly attributable to the increased use of mobile telephones.
“Nowadays, 10 people drive by an accident on the highway and they all call 911,” said Sorrells. “We get a lot more reports of reckless drivers from people who call 911 when they’re on the road. We didn’t see that years ago. It’s common-place now to receive calls from cars.”
Sorrells said that not only do cell phones alert dispatchers of accidents on the highway; they also bring instantaneity to emergency reporting.
“If someone gets kicked out of the house by their spouse, the person can call us within seconds,” said Sorrells. “Before, they had to wait until they found a landline.”
The few minutes it takes someone to find a landline can be the difference between life and death. Sorrells said is especially true for things like head injuries or strokes, where brain damage can occur within minutes.
A few towns in the county saw little change or even a decrease in calls from 2002. The rural areas only increased 25 percent, from 1869 to 2344. West Chester went up 13 percent, from 46 to 52 calls. Crawfordsville plummeted from 79 calls in 2002 to 45 calls the next year and since then has never made more than 48 calls in a single year.
Sorrells said that in the case of Crawfordsville, there were a few families who called 911 often about domestic disputes in 2002. When those families moved away, the dispatchers suddenly received fewer calls from the town.
Brighton and Wellman both increased by approximately 50 percent, going from 211 to 313 calls and 290 to 455 calls, respectively. Ainsworth nearly doubled its call volume from 85 to 167.
Sorrells said that a few residents who call 911 constantly can skew a town’s statistics and give a misleading impression of the number of real emergencies that occur.
“Some people call 911 repeatedly because they are always having problems with their family,” said Sorrells. “We have some people who always call whenever they hear screaming. The reality is most people have never called 911 in their life.”
She said it is often the case that a problem like a stray dog can be handled by each town’s city council and does not need to involve deputies or dispatchers. In that instance, Sorrells said that dispatchers tell the caller to also contact their city council members and have the issue resolved through city ordinances.
For the full article, see our Feb. 1 print edition.