Inadvertent 911 calls climb in St. Croix CountyTechnology is a wonderful thing but sometimes its lightning quick advancement causes problems. Such is the case for the St. Croix County Emergency Communications, the 911 call center and director Casey Swetlik.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
Technology is a wonderful thing but sometimes its lightning quick advancement causes problems.
Such is the case for the St. Croix County Emergency Communications, the 911 call center and director Casey Swetlik. The number of 911 calls made that aren’t emergencies and are often mistakes has risen over 400 percent since 2006, according to Swetlik.
“In many cases it’s caused because a person has 911 programmed into speed dial and the number gets bumped and sends a call. This is most common with open face phones with the dialing pad on the outside,” he said.
“Other situations include when a parent changes to a newer phone and gives the old phone to a child to play with. They don’t realize that as long as there is a charged battery in the phone, 911 can be dialed. We get calls when kids are just punching numbers on an old phone.
Swetlik said the problem is every 911 call is a potential emergency and has to be dispatched to law enforcement personal to check out.
“We have had success stories,” he said. “Situations where we have found a car in the ditch and the driver is incapacitated or domestic situations where the victim could only dial the number and not talk.”
The advance in technology now gives the 911 operators a means to locate where cell phone calls originate. A dispatcher has six boxes on his computer screen for hard lines and three for cell phone 911 calls. A demonstration showed that very quickly after the 911 call comes in, it can be pinpointed on a map anywhere in the county.
“The technology to identify the location of a cell phone was installed in the county at the end of 2007 through a grant,” Swetlik said.
Swetlik and his staff have put together a public service campaign to alert people about the unintended 911 calls. He borrowed some ideas from a similar situation in Canada that explains 911 calls can be dialed while your phone is in your pants, a purse or backpack, especially if the emergency number is pre-programmed into the device.
The director said the center hosts several tours a month for students and the importance of avoiding against accidental 911 calls is stressed.
Technology marches on and there is another potential situation on the horizon. “It’s called Next Gen 911, the next generation 911 where emergency calls can be texted into the center,” he said adding that there is no way to determine the location of a text message.
“It’s always challenging,” said Swetlik who took over as director in April 2007 after serving as dispatcher and assistant director since 1988.