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Emergency Dispatch Centers Hit with Wave of Phony Calls

Emergency Dispatch Centers Hit with Wave of Phony Calls



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Phony emergency calls from deactivated cell phones are distracting 911 dispatch centers and sometimes divert the attention of emergency crews, according to dispatchers.

In just two months, the Weber/Morgan dispatch center has recorded more than 1,100 calls from deactivated cell phones, most of them pranks, said operations manager Cindy Fox.

Because tracing calls from a deactivated cell phone is difficult, if not impossible, the callers go unpunished for their false alarms.

The phony calls are sometimes convincing enough to divert police, fire and medical crews to fake addresses.

Weber/Morgan dispatchers reported sending a K-9 unit to handle a caller's concern about a trespasser, then a fire engine and ambulance to another call about a fallen man. Both were false reports.

"We are trying to get emergency services to people who really need the help," said dispatch supervisor Cathy Pommier. "If we send fire units, police units and ambulances to calls that aren't real, that takes manpower away from calls that actually need it."

Salt Lake City dispatchers report almost a thousand calls over deactivated cell phones between January and February. Most of the calls were pranks.

St. George senior dispatcher Rachel Sharich said she personally received at least 20 prank calls -- some with just children's voices in the background -- during a five-day period last week.

Federal law requires cell phones be able to broadcast a 911 call whether the phone is activated or not.

Some deactivated phones prove valuable for victims of domestic violence who receive them through charities and use them to make emergency calls. But dispatchers say they get hundreds of calls from children dialing 911 on deactivated cell phones that parents have handed down as toys.

Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), said the Federal Communications Commission knew of possible abuses when they required cell phone carriers to relay emergency calls.

Although prank calls have become problematic, Halley defends the decision.

"Is it worth having 1,000 prank calls to save two lives?" he asked. "In my opinion, yes."

------ Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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