'Butt calls' a pain for emergency responders

9-1-1 dialed hundreds of times a day by people sitting on cellphones

By Gerry Bellett, Canwest News Service July 16, 2009

To emergency service call takers they're known as "butt calls," so named because someone with a cellphone in a back pocket -- preprogrammed to speed dial 9-1-1 -- has sat on it accidentally, triggering a call.

In the Vancouver area, such inadvertent calls number in the hundreds each day, said E-Comm's spokeswoman Jody Robertson.

E-Comm is the emergency communications centre responsible for dispatching police, fire and ambulance. It handles about one million calls a year, she said.

"These accidental calls really slow down the system because we can't ignore them," said Robertson.

Not all such calls originate with someone's butt.

But the generic term covers everything from toddlers calling after being handed their parents' old, decommissioned cellphone -- decommissioned except for the 9-1-1 function -- to someone's loose set of keys coming in contact with a programmed cellphone in a purse or backpack.

"We would really like to ask parents not to give old cellphones to their children as toys because it can result in accidental calls," she said.

The biggest headache for E-Comm, though, is the use of phones that have been preprogrammed to dial 9-1-1.

"9-1-1 is a speed dial so people don't have to set up their phones to do this. If someone has pre-programmed their cellphone or land line it doesn't take much to set it off," said Robertson. "We are asking them not to do this."

Prior to 2005, cellphone companies built a 9-1-1 auto-dial function into their phones and an emergency call could be made by depressing and holding down 9 or 1 on the keypad, she said.

However, they stopped producing such phones following complaints from the emergency communications industry about the number of accidental calls they were receiving, she said.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Funny story, but not really either.