Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

One of the Biggest Hazards to U.S. Emergency Systems is Right Behind You

October 06, 2015

What would it mean if a city saw a 28 percent increase in its 911 calls received over a three-year period? Would it mean a crime wave of epic proportions? Increasing clumsiness? An epidemic? For the San Francisco Department of Emergency, it meant major call center congestion until it finally found the root cause of this new flood. A new report may have found the cause of the spike, and it’s sitting behind you right now: a practice known colorfully as “butt dialing”, or occasionally, “pocket dialing.”

Butt dialing or pocket dialing comes from having a smartphone or similar device in a pocket or near one's posterior; the shifting of a person's leg may accidentally make contact with buttons or touchscreens on the device in question, accidentally placing a call. This often happens to the number last dialed, or occasionally—as referenced above—to emergency call centers. Indeed, one sample session found that 30 percent of 911 calls coming in from mobile devices were accidentally dialed.

This poses a bigger problem for call centers; not only do the calls have to be addressed, but the dispatcher doesn't know if the call was dialed accidentally or the caller is simply unable to talk. That means all the calls require follow-up operations, and each call in turn takes an average of one minute and 14 seconds to determine it's a mistaken call.

The problem is compounded by the fact that every mobile device has the ability to make an emergency call without the need to unlock it, and so every phone that has sufficient battery charge to operate can make an emergency call, and potentially make one accidentally. It's also been noted that this is ammunition for hoax callers as well; since the phone in question isn't tied to a network any more, tracing the call becomes highly difficult.

The biggest problem here is that many of the solutions for butt dialing are difficult to enact, and come with issues as well. There's clearly a huge waste involved in butt dialing, and much of it is tough to solve since it's unintentional. One solution known as Silent Solutions was tried out in the U.K., which required users to press “55” if there was actually a caller on the line. But after a 17 year old girl named Hannah Foster was kidnapped and subsequently murdered in 2003 following a silent call—that was later considered an accidental call—the idea of a password-protected 911 of sorts came under greater scrutiny.

A lack of information here is ultimately hurting a lot of the problem solving processes that go into finding solutions, and many of the countermeasures considered aren't entirely without hazard. So finding a safer ground—where the butt isn't involved in calling 911—can be a much harder process than some would think. There likely are no simple answers here, but getting butt dialing out of the system means a better system for all concerned.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere