Police services across Ontario are seeing an increase in the number of pocket dialed and unintentional 9-1-1 calls, which the Ontario 9-1-1 Advisory Board (OAB) and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) said today represents a serious threat to public safety.

Pocket dials happen when a keypad on a mobile device carried in a pocket, purse, backpack, etc. is accidentally pressed. Unintentional 9-1-1 calls are generated from a mobile device and are not intended as emergency calls.

Unintentional 9-1-1 calls tie up phone lines that deliver 9-1-1 calls to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), which handle 9-1-1 calls. This negatively impacts a PSAP's ability to respond to real emergencies.

The OAB and OACP have found that hundreds of unintentional/pocket dialed 9-1-1 calls are being received daily by police services across Ontario from cell phones and other devices where no emergency exists. For example:
  • The Toronto Police Service received 1,227,791 calls to 9-1-1 in 2011. 1 in 5 calls were not valid emergencies. Pocket dials accounted for 107,748, or half of the false calls; misdialed calls to 9-1-1 (116,770) accounted for the remainder.
  • York Regional Police received 97,886 unintentional 9-1-1 calls from wireless devices in 2011, accounting for 37.33% of all 9-1-1 calls received.
  • London Police Service received 6,622 pocket dials from August to November, 2011, averaging 11.24% of total 9-1-1 calls.
  • Peel Regional Police received 80,724 unintentional 9-1-1 calls from wireless devices between June 1st, 2011 and December 31st, 2011, accounting for 33% of the 9-1-1 calls received.

For every unintentional/pocket 9-1-1 call received, a 9-1-1 emergency operator must determine whether an emergency exists. Every second counts when someone is waiting for an emergency communicator to pick up a 9-1-1 call and dispatch police, emergency medical services, or fire.

"When unintentionally dialed calls are made to 9-1-1 call centres, they become a public safety issue and are a drain on law enforcement resources." said Inspector Paulo Da Silva of York Regional Police.

Stopping Pocket Calls

Police say smartphone users can prevent pocket dials or unintentional 9-1-1 calls by locking their keypads using the keypad lock feature. Keypad locks, some of which can be programmed to activate automatically, prevent a mobile device from responding to keystrokes until the user unlocks the keypad using a short combination of key presses.

Police also advise users to turn off the 9-1-1 auto-dial feature, if your mobile device has one and to refrain from programming a wireless device to speed or automatically dial 9-1-1.

"Citizens have the power to stop unintentional 9-1-1 calls from their mobile devices. It could be as simple as locking a key pad or putting the device in stand-by mode," said Chief Matt Torigian, President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

What to do if you make an unintentional call

If you realize you are making an unintentional, police advise you not make hang up but rather you should stay on the line. Every 9-1-1 call is taken seriously so when a 9-1-1 caller doesn't respond, that could be a sign of trouble - a possibility an emergency responder can't ignore.

Pocket dialers are urged to let the emergency operator know it was a pocket dial/unintentional call. This will eliminate the need for the emergency operator to call back to determine if there is a legitimate emergency, saving precious seconds and allowing them to move on to the next emergency call.

Discuss how to prevent unintentional calls with your smartphone in Digital Home's Smartphone and Tablet computing forum .