Pocket mobe butt dialing clogs up 911 emergency calls, says Google

Report finds accidental calls a growing nuisance for cops, firefighters and medics

Researchers with Google have found that accidental "butt dial" calls from mobile phones are creating a headache for emergency call centers.

A study published this month by Google's 911 research team found that from 2012-2014, the number of accidental wireless calls to emergency operators has increased, as has the time spent dealing with those calls.

The study looked at data collected from emergency call centers in the city of San Francisco and surveys of the city's emergency call center operators. It found that 34 per cent of the calls that operators received in 2014 were classified either as "miscellaneous" or "unknown," by far the two most common categories.

Additionally, the "unknown" call code had the second largest increase of any category between 2012 and 2014.

Many of those calls, say the researchers, were errant "pocket dials" in which a user forgets to lock the phone and then, by sitting down, accidentally dials a number, in this case emergency services.

The study noted that emergency dispatchers spend more time handling accidental calls from mobile devices than they would from land-line phones. Because many of the accidental calls are made without the caller's knowledge, operators can be left waiting for a response or having to call back to voicemail.

According to the study, the average time operators spend calling back mobile phones for an accidental dial is 1 minute 14 seconds, while the average callback on a landline phone takes 43 seconds.

"Findings from the dispatcher survey supported the notion that dealing with wireless accidental dials can be a time-consuming process for dispatchers," the Google study found.

"80 per cent of respondents agreed that the wireless callback was a time-consuming aspect of their workflow and 39 per cent listed wireless callbacks as their largest pain point in the open text field of the survey."

To alleviate the problem, Google recommends that emergency services begin using a new code number for accidental calls so they can track the levels of mistaken 911 dials. In addition, the researchers believe that creating a system to automate the callback process for those accidental dials will help save time and allow operators to deal with actual emergency calls. ®

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