Increasing number of accidental 911 calls are coming from smart devices

APPLETON, Wi. (WBAY) - Nearly everyone with a cell phone has made an accidental call. But now with smartwatches and other devices there's even more opportunities to dial by mistake - which is a problem for 911 dispatchers.

"In 2019 we had about 13,000 accidental 911 calls,” said Outagamie Sheriff’s Office Communications Supervisor Erik Nielson.

Nielson says in recent years they've been getting more of those mistaken dials from smartwatches and other devices.

"We don't track that specifically, but we have had - we had one today actually that came from a smartwatch,” said Nielson. “We had a supervisor that was testing with his smartwatch the other day and just said the phrase 'I'm dying' and his smartwatch called 911."

The biggest issue with misdials to 911 is when the caller quickly hangs up and doesn't speak with a dispatcher.

"If your phone says 'Calling 911' it's already gone through to the router, we're going to get it, we have to call it back, we're going to send an officer,” said Nielson. “So you're tying up all those resources."

"Go through the due diligence of trying to figure out whose phone it is, where they might be,” said Appleton Police Officer Meghan Cash.

Cash says even though it ties up law enforcement - they will always take calls seriously. The Appleton Police Department recently made a Facebook post about the number of misdials in its area and urged people to learn more about their smart devices.

"People aren't always aware of how their devices work, and some of it is just technology is changing and we're evolving with that,” said Cash.

"There are a lot of things to be aware of that your phone is listening for and watching for that will automatically prompt a call to 911,” said Nielson.

Regardless of how someone misdials, the key is to let dispatchers know they are okay.

"That's the biggest thing for us is making sure that if you dial accidentally, stay on the line and let us know,” said Nielson.

"Staying on that line might be a small bit of an embarrassment, but we're all going to laugh in the end and it's completely fine,” said Cash.

Of the roughly 13,000 accidental calls Outagamie Co. dispatch received in 2019, more than 7,000 of those were “abandoned” calls that had to be followed up on.