Why you should never hang up after calling 911, even if it was a mistaken dial

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Do not hang up when you call 911, even if they’ve called by accident.

Department: Emergency Communications Center

Each month, the Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center takes hundreds of calls to find there’s no one on the other end.

Emergency communications officers often are faced with “911 hang-ups” and “abandoned calls.” Hang-ups occur when callers hang up on an emergency communications officer. An abandoned call is when the caller disconnects even before the emergency communications officer hears a ringtone. Even though there was no ringtone, an abandoned call is still recorded in the Emergency Communications Center’s computer system.

Most of these types of calls are honest mistakes — callers hit the wrong speed-dial button or “pocket dial” 911 — but some are emergencies. No matter whether someone hangs up or abandons a call, the response is the same: a return call from the emergency communications officer in an attempt to determine whether there’s an emergency. If there’s no answer but the address is known, such as when a call is made using a land-line phone, emergency responders are dispatched. Calls made with wireless phones do not always provide the exact address of the caller. Sometimes only an approximate location or the street address of the cellular tower is displayed, making it challenging for emergency communications officers to determine an accurate location.

Emergency communications officers are urging people to not hang up when they call 911, even if they’ve called by accident, or to answer their phones when emergency communications officers return calls for verification.

Verifying whether there is an emergency can take a lot of time and result in resources being dispatched unnecessarily. That’s why it’s so important for callers to stay on the line even if they realize they’ve called 911 by mistake, said Pam Cimburke, programs manager for the Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center.

People who have called 911 by accident should simply stay on the line to let the person who answers know there’s not an emergency, Cimburke said.

Just as important as knowing what to do if you’ve called 911 unintentionally is knowing when it is appropriate to call 911, said Tammy Higgins, operations manager for the Chesterfield County Emergency Communications Center. The Emergency Communications Center has a nonemergency number at 804-748-1251 that people may call when there’s not an emergency but they still need assistance. Some examples include calls about barking dogs, traffic jams or minor traffic incidents in which it’s obvious that nobody is hurt.

People should dial 911 anytime there is immediate danger to life or property, a medical emergency, any type of fire, and when they see crimes in progress or suspect crimes have just occurred. Calling to provide information about a crime days after it occurred can be handled through the nonemergency line, Higgins said.

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