Flood of unfounded 911 calls spurs plea to parents

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OREM — A flood of 911 calls into Orem's emergency dispatch center, has dispatchers making a plea to the public: take the batteries out of your old cellphones.

A cellphone without an active service plan will turn on, but it won't make a call. That is unless you're calling 911. Cellphones will always call 911.

The trouble is that many people don't realize this, especially parents who let their kids play with their old phone.

"Pretty much, the kids play with the phone when we are waiting anywhere," said Rachel Layton, a Utah County resident.

Her kids like to pretend they are talking to a friend or try games on the phone. But from personal experience, Layton knows to watch her kids very closely.

"Halle called 911 once, and they called right back and weren't very happy," Layton recalled. "I was like, ‘I'm sorry. I didn't know she even knew that.'"

Because Layton's phone had an active service plan, police could quickly rule out an actual emergency. But old cellphones continue to plague 911 dispatch centers.

Orem Police Sgt. Craig Martinez said his dispatch center got 25 such calls Tuesday alone — all non-emergency, all disconnected cellphones. But dispatchers can't call the number back and can't pinpoint exactly where the call was made.

"A lot of times they hang up, and we don't know where they are at," said 911 dispatcher Tricia Brienholt. "We just have a tower location."

For dispatchers and officers, the calls all have to be treated as a real emergency.

"Even if you have a disconnected cellphone, it can still call 911," Brienholt said, "and when it does, and you don't have an emergency, it's using valuable resources to do that."

Not only does it keep dispatchers busy, police officers still must respond to the area to see if there is a real emergency.

"We check the area to check to make sure there isn't an obvious problem," Martinez said. "Beyond that, there's not much we can do.

But police say parents can do a lot. The biggest help is to simply remove the battery or make sure it is completely dead before letting your child play with a cellphone.

You can give your kids a pretend phone — they make annoying sounds, but this won't ever make an unwanted call to 911.

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Sam Penrod


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